This Q&A is part of BREAKER’s celebration of the original bitcoin white paper.
Ten years ago today, a then 38-year-old Australian computer scientist named Craig Wright, using the alias Satoshi Nakamoto, published a white paper entitled “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System” on a cryptography mailing list. A little over two months later, Wright—again as Satoshi—launched the bitcoin network.
Then again, maybe he didn’t.
Wright’s relationship to bitcoin is a complicated one. In December 2015, Wired and Gizmodo reported within hours of each other that the then-obscure Aussie was likely Satoshi Nakamoto. However, subsequent investigation found that it may all have been an elaborate hoax. In spring 2016, Wright publicly came out as Satoshi, but quickly begged off providing definitive proof that he was the creator of bitcoin, writing on his website, “I know now that I am not strong enough for this.”
People in the crypto community decried him as a fraud and a scammer, and somewhere along the way he earned the nickname Faketoshi. It hasn’t helped Wright’s reputation that he has extremely high self-regard and, when challenged, has been known to fly off the handle.
Today, Wright refuses to answer directly whether he is in fact Satoshi, though he’s no less outspoken—as he proved in a recent conversation with BREAKER, via Skype from London. Now chief scientist at blockchain R&D company nChain and a proponent of the bitcoin offshoot Bitcoin Cash, Wright discussed what Satoshi’s (his?) white paper got right, what he thinks of all the haters, and how he’s about to surpass Thomas Edison.
When I first got in touch with you about doing an interview, you said you wouldn’t be back in the U.S. until 2021, when “any statute of limitation is well past.” You added, “Gaming, money. I don’t trust the U.S.” What specifically are you concerned about?
Basically, I’ve had a long involvement in the online gambling world. It’s all been licensed casinos, etcetera, but I don’t trust the attitude of the U.S. government at the moment. They’re better than they were with the previous president, but they’re very anti–online gaming, and as such, I’m just going to stay away.
For the tenth anniversary of Satoshi Nakamoto’s bitcoin white paper, we’ve been reaching out to some of the bigger figures in the cryptocurrency space for comment. What does this 10-year milestone mean to you?
Ten years down, at least 30 more to go.
Why do you say 30?
In 30 years, it will become mainstream. We will see bitcoin as plumbing.
So it will be like plumbing, something that we take for granted?
Yes. Basically, it will get to be the underlying value network of the world.
"I’m not going to say yea or nay [as to whether I'm Satoshi]. Or do anything else. I’m not retracting anything, because I don’t think it should matter."
In 2016, you said that you were, in fact, Satoshi Nakamoto—a controversial claim, to put it mildly. Do you stand by that pronouncement?
I’m not going to say yea or nay. Or do anything else. I’m not retracting anything, because I don’t think it should matter. If [a definitive answer] is what you need, then you’re looking at the wrong thing. That’s a proof of stake thing, and I base myself on proof of work. I do more [work] than anyone else. They may not admit it, but they will in a few years’ time.
Do you now regret coming forward as Satoshi in 2016?
Not really going to go into any of that. It shouldn’t be about the person. It’s about the technology. And if you have to believe me or anything like that, then you’re going down the wrong path.
Do you understand why it drives people crazy that you won’t say either way?
That’s their problem. That’s the whole problem with this socialist sort of B.S. that we keep facing. People sit there saying, “You have to tell me.” Why? I don’t have to tell you anything. I have my right to privacy. I can say what I will or won’t. I’m not asking you to give me money or support me. I don’t want your support. I don’t really care. I don’t need your investment. I’m not raising capital. I’m not getting a cent from you. Therefore, you have no right to know. The end.
What’s all that have to do with socialism?
Socialism is this idea that everyone requires equal knowledge, equal ability. Everything is distributed. You don’t have to pay for everything. I’m very capitalist. I believe everything in life should be paid for. There’s value in everything. Not everything has a monetary commercial value, but life itself is capitalist. We evolve because we get calories and energy. And those with more access to calories and energy propagate more. I believe the universe is actually a big capitalist, competitive system.
You think the whole universe is capitalist?
I do. And I love competition.
Who are you the most competitive with—and don’t say yourself.
Don’t say yourself. Somebody else.
It has to be myself. Who am I competing with?
You tell me. Other people in the cryptocurrency space?
I won’t even go there. I’m working on my fourth doctorate, while I’m working [my job]. By the end of November, I’ll have filed my one-thousandth white paper. Even if I stopped now, that would make me the third most-prolific inventor/patentor in human history. I’m competing with a guy who’s 87. He’s a guy in Japan. I can’t remember his name—it starts with S.
And who’s the other one?
There’s an Australian who’s number two, but he’s slowed down. Thomas Edison I’ll beat with the current filings. He had 1,084, I think, off the top of my head. So I’ll beat him by January.
Do you think you’ll go down in the history books like Thomas Edison?
If I stop now, I’ll get to be the third most-prolific inventor, by patents, in human history, so yes.
What is the patent you’re proudest of?
Hmm… Ones I’ll be talking about in November, at CoinGeek.
Can you give me a hint about what you’ll be announcing at CoinGeek?
I’m not going to go into detail, but I will say that bitcoin is .1 percent of everything that will be.
“Everything that will be” in terms of what?
Where it goes from, and where it goes to. What people understand about bitcoin at the moment is probably .1 percent.
"People like to think the internet's overly commercial—it’s exactly the opposite. It’s exactly everything that’s wrong with society in many ways. It is socialist. It is this idea that everything should be open and free."
One of the questions we’re asking people is “What was the one thing that most excited you the first time you read the white paper?” Of course, you might have written the white paper. So how would you answer that question?
It’s a pivotal step in what will change the nature of the internet. Right now, the internet is very noncommercial. People like to think it’s overly commercial—it’s exactly the opposite. It’s exactly everything that’s wrong with society in many ways. It is socialist. It is this idea that everything should be open and free. And with bitcoin we get the capability to have a complete user-paid system—a capitalist form of allocation, where we actually have something that is fair.
What’s one promise bitcoin has fulfilled?
Solving double spending.
And what is one way that bitcoin has failed?
It hasn’t really failed so far. Until it reaches a large enough stage, like it’s starting to get to now, you really have a problem of noncommercial miners and people, like this whole UASF [user-activated soft fork] bullshit, that come around thinking that they matter when the early commercial miners really matter. It’s getting the message out there that peer-to-peer means you and I are transmitting an exchange and then having the blockchain as a settlement engine. And not everyone needs to be part of the settlement. You don’t need to trust the system, because it’s [miner] competition that you rely on. You look at other people’s greed, and you rely on the fact that other people are going to compete the hell out of each other to try and get in first and make money. That’s what you’re trusting.
You’re a controversial figure. How does it feel to be the target of so much hatred?
I don’t really care. These people that do that would hate me no matter what. They have an ideal of what they want in bitcoin that is not bitcoin.
What do you mean by that?
They want it to deliver equality, they want it to destroy governments, they want it to bring down the system and burn it all so they can build anew. Bitcoin was never designed for any of that. Bitcoin doesn’t replace banks—it changes them, it makes them evolve. It doesn’t replace government at all. It doesn’t stop government spending money, it doesn’t alter the fact that governments can go to war. It doesn’t do any of these things that people say bitcoin is going to do.
It’s not social consensus. It’s exactly the opposite of social consensus. This is why there are so many problems in Ethereum and EOS—it’s anti-social consensus. It’s not one vote, one person. It’s vote by investment.
You’ve very publicly clashed with Ethereum cofounder Vitalik Buterin. What is your beef with Vitalik?
He’s the one who chose it. His beef is that bitcoin does everything that Ethereum can, except better—apart from the block size, which in Bitcoin Cash is gone. It’s been removed. I remember when I went on a conference in 2015, I was ridiculed for saying that bitcoin is a total Turing system, and now others have validated my claims. And what I see now is people walking around going, “Oh, everyone knew that, it was always obvious.” So it’s funny looking back at these things and remembering how everyone called me a fool, and they’re now saying how I’m a fool because it’s so obvious—I’m stating what everyone knows.
I guess you can’t win, huh?
Welcome to the world. [Laughs.] I don’t care. I’m winning quite well.
You recently tweeted that when people insult you, they need to remember that “I am way past rich enough to not care. In all ways, money, loving wife… the lot.” You’re basically taking on the haters.
Yup. Why not? I wasn’t expecting it in 2015 [when news accounts of him possibly being Satoshi emerged], and I had journalists and all the rest. So that was unexpected. But one thing I’ve learned is: Fuck ’em.
In May 2016, you wrote that you weren’t “strong enough” to go ahead with proving you invented bitcoin, which seemed like a very vulnerable confession. Do you feel like you’d have enough strength to provide proof now?
You have the strength to do what we need to do.
What does that mean?
That means actually doing interviews like this one. I’m known, I’m going to conferences. I’m teaching people how bitcoin should work, etcetera.
"I woke up one morning to find something like 17 different camera crews outside, trying to track me down.... I wasn't ready for anything."
It seems like you’re in a much better place now than you were a couple of years ago.
I’d agreed. You get used to it. When I first went down this path, I’d never been in a position where I had effectively the world watching me. I woke up one morning to find something like 17 different camera crews outside, trying to track me down. World news putting my name out there, etcetera. I’ve never really wanted publicity. My sister is involved with movies, so she did. But I was exactly the opposite. Waking up one morning, going from running a company, being a skilled businessman who no one cared about, to suddenly being everywhere—and hate mail, and people saying how they loved me. People saying “Why’d you do it?” Just a barrage of all sorts of bullshit.
It must be a real mindfuck to have to deal with that.
It is. I wasn’t ready for anything. I keep my family out of things, and we weren’t in a position at that stage where I was able to do that. Now I am. It’s just much better.
What do you mean you’re able to keep them out of it? How have things changed?
I don’t want to go into that because that would give things away and have journalists track down my family and annoy them.
I have a question about the lawsuit that’s been filed against you by the estate of your friend Dave Kleiman, which claims you stole hundreds of thousands of bitcoin from one of his companies following his death. You’ve responded to a question about it on Twitter, saying the suit was about “greed.” Could you expand on that?
No, because I’m not going to talk about lawsuits. All I’ll say is that you can’t steal bitcoins that way. Anyone who actually understands how bitcoin works will understand that you can’t file a lawsuit and steal bitcoins. You need keys. Either I have the keys or I don’t. I don’t need a lawsuit to steal keys.
They’re claiming that you filed a lawsuit to get his bitcoin?
Yeah, if you read their stuff, but I won’t go into their stupidity. [Editor’s note: The suit claims Wright “forged a series of contracts that purported to transfer Dave’s assets to Craig and/or companies controlled by him. Craig backdated these contracts and forged Dave’s signature on them.”]
Going back to the tenth anniversary: What is the biggest challenge of the next decade as far as bitcoin goes?
Getting five billion people to use it.
I’m trying to picture a world in which people are using bitcoin like they use fiat currency. How do you actually see it working?
We’re way past using it as fiat currency, but you’ll have to wait about a month to hear a little bit about that one.
It sounds like you have world-changing plans.
Earlier you said that in three decades, bitcoin would be like plumbing. At that point you’ll be 78. What do you think the world will look like then?
What does that mean exactly?
Wait a month and I’ll be talking about it.
That is quite a tease. Is there anything else, looking back on 10 years of bitcoin, that you think has been notable?
The funny thing is, the biggest highlights that people know about were all at the beginning—’09 till ’12. That was probably the most excitement, the time where people actually believed in bitcoin, before inventing stupid things to break bitcoin, like SegWit. Before people started silly ideas like “Bitcoin needs to be socialist,” and “It needs to be run on everyone’s computer,” and “It’s not working unless every single person’s a miner.”
People have been sucked into the lie that bitcoin’s about social consensus, and they keep hearing proof of work doesn’t work because it burns too much electricity or that it doesn’t make things fair or whatever else. But there is no social consensus fairness or anything like that. Socialism doesn’t work. Capitalism does.
"This is not about community. Community? What, we’re all gonna grab each other, hug, and sing 'Kumbaya'?"
You’re fundamentally challenging the beliefs of a good deal of the bitcoin community. I guess you don’t care for them very much.
Not really, no.
Does it make it hard when you go to conferences and things of that nature that a lot of the community’s beliefs are antithetical to yours?
To be controversial: Fuck community. This is not about community. You don’t go to a business conference to have community. Community? What, we’re all gonna grab each other, hug, and sing “Kumbaya”? It’s about building a monetary system. It’s not about giving my ideas to you so we can all be equal. It’s about competing. That’s what proof of work is. It’s competition. Do they like competition? Probably not. That’s their bad luck.
Earlier I asked who you’re competing with and you said yourself, but besides yourself, who are you really competing with?
There was Thomas Edison until January, and I’ll get to the next guy on the list. Not your average person, and not anyone in bitcoin.
Are there people in the community who you feel a kinship with or are you on your own?
Kinship? No. Do I like people in the community? Yes. I’ve got friends as well as enemies.
How does it feel to have so many enemies?
Like I care. It just means I’m doing something right. [Laughs.] I’m not taking their money, I’m not asking them for investment. I’m winning, and if they hate me it’s because they don’t want to compete hard enough.
Is there anything you want to add about bitcoin’s past or future?
Its future will be everything.
“Everything”? What does that mean? You can be very cryptic, you know that, right?
I do know that.
Do you enjoy being cryptic?
Eh… You want a teaser, there’s your teaser: It will be everything.
This interview has been edited and condensed. Image courtesy nChain.