Another Father of Bitcoin?

Moneybox
A blog about business and economics.
April 16 2014 11:42 AM

Another Father of Bitcoin?

Bitcoins.
Forensic linguistics researchers are hot on the bitcoin trail.

Photo by George Frey/Getty Images

More than a month has passed since Newsweek opened the conspiracy floodgates with a cover story claiming that bitcoin’s founder was an unassuming, Toyota Corolla–driving, model-train-loving man in California named Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto. One of the pieces of circumstantial evidence was that the punctuation and “other format quirks” in the original bitcoin proposal were “consistent with how Dorian S. Nakamoto writes.” After the report broke, Nakamoto issued a statement to “unconditionally deny” Newsweek’s story and his involvement in bitcoin.

Now, researchers from a British university have run their own comprehensive forensic linguistics analysis and ID’d a new candidate as the digital currency’s “probable creator”: blogger and former George Washington University law professor Nick Szabo.

The “Project Bitcoin” study examined linguistic similarities between the bitcoin paper and hundreds of documents written by 11 other individuals rumored to be its author, including Nakamoto. Jack Grieve, a lecturer in forensic linguistics at Aston University and the leader of the study, said in a statement that the “number of linguistic similarities between Szabo’s writing and the Bitcoin paper is uncanny”:

Our study adds to the weight of evidence pointing towards Nick Szabo. The case looks pretty clear-cut. Szabo is an expert in law, finance, cryptography and computer science. He created “bit gold”, a precursor to Bitcoin, and was looking for collaborators in 2008. Did Nick Szabo create Bitcoin? We’re not sure, but we think he probably wrote the paper so it’s certainly worth a closer look.
Advertisement

The hedging in that statement makes pretty clear that the researchers have learned the lesson of the Newsweek debacle, carefully avoiding claims of a smoking gun. A spokesman for Aston University said the report has not been peer reviewed and is not set to be in the near future. Szabo did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

The Aston University release goes on to detail the correlations between Szabo’s writing and the text of the bitcoin paper:

The results showed that of the eleven Szabo is by far the closest match, with a large number of distinctive linguistic traits appearing in both the Bitcoin paper and Szabo’s blogs and other writings. This includes the use of: the phrases “chain of…”, “trusted third parties”, “for our purposes”, “need for…”, “still”, “of course”, “as long as”, “such as” and “only” numerous times, contractions, commas before ‘and’ and ‘but’, hyphenation, ‘-ly’ adverbs, the pronouns ‘we’ and ‘our’ in papers by a single author; fragmented sentences following colons and reflexive (-self) pronouns.

And here’s one last point: The study notes that the bitcoin paper was drafted using LaTeX, an open-source document preparation system. Szabo, they add with a hint of conclusiveness, uses LaTeX for all his publications, too.

Alison Griswold is a Slate staff writer covering business and economics.

TODAY IN SLATE

Culturebox

The Ebola Story

How our minds build narratives out of disaster.

The Budget Disaster That Completely Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

The Shooting Tragedies That Forged Canada’s Gun Politics

A Highly Unscientific Ranking of Crazy-Old German Beers

Education

Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.

Culturebox

The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

Would You Trust Walmart to Provide Your Health Care? (You Should.)

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
  Business
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
  Life
Gentleman Scholar
Oct. 22 2014 5:54 PM May I Offer to Sharpen My Friends’ Knives? Or would that be rude?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 4:27 PM Three Ways Your Text Messages Change After You Get Married
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
  Arts
Culturebox
Oct. 22 2014 11:54 PM The Actual World “Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 5:33 PM One More Reason Not to Use PowerPoint: It’s The Gateway for a Serious Windows Vulnerability
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 2:42 PM Orcas, Via Drone, for the First Time Ever
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.