Reason Magazine has put forward an incredible new theory that a bestselling novelist invented Bitcoin. The circumstantial evidence is compelling.
Did best selling cyberpunk novelist Neal Stephenson (Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon) invent Bitcoin under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto?
That’s what Reason Magazine wants to know.
“It’s plausible that Neal Stephenson invented, or helped invent, Bitcoin, because that is simply the sort of thing that Neal Stephenson might do,” Peter Suderman writes.
Suderman points out that Stephenson has been “both disciple and muse” to the inventors of the Internet and the iPad, as well as an early employee at Blue Origin, the private space firm founded by billionaire Jeff Bezos.
Incredibly smart and technically adept, the 59-year-old author moonlights as the ‘chief futurist’ for augmented reality startup Magic Leap, which raised $2 billion in funding.
Stephenson and Satoshi both influenced by ‘cypherpunks’
Stephenson’s early work was heavily influenced by the “cypherpunks’, a “coalition of hacker-technologists obsessed with cryptography, distributed information platforms, and science fiction.”
No one who has read Snow Crash, The Diamond Age, REAMDE, or any of his other novels would doubt that he has the technical knowledge and vision to be able to create something like Bitcoin.
Cryptonomicon invented Bitcoin in 1999
The most compelling evidence is in his 1999 novel Cryptonomicon, where Stephenson wrote at length about cryptocurrencies almost a decade before Bitcoin was invented.
The novel was named after the Cyphernomicon, a cypherpunk FAQ.
This wasn’t some work of pure imagination either – the 918-page novel contained detailed, dense descriptions of mathematics and cryptography – even including Perl script for the Solitaire (or Pontifex) cipher, a cryptographic algorithm, as part of the plot.
The novel goes back to Alan Turing and the cracking of the Enigma Code at Bletchley Park during World War II before moving to the 1990s where hacker entrepreneurs are setting up a system of online banking and digital currency that was encrypted and completely anonymous and outside the reach of traditional governments. Sound familiar?
One passage goes like this:
“What’s an electronic banknote look like, Randy?”
“Like any other digital thing: a bunch of bits.”
“Doesn’t that make it kind of easy to counterfeit?”
“Not if you have good crypto,” Randy says. “Which we do.”
Actually, he invented Bitcoin in 1995
Suderman fails to note that Stephenson has actually been talking about crypto money as far back as 1995 in a short story published in Time Magazine called “The Great Simoleon Caper.”
It details: “E-money that is totally private from the eyes of government.”
“Isn’t any code crackable?”
“Any kind of E-money consists of numbers moving around on wires,” I say. “If you know how to keep your numbers secret, your currency is safe. If you don’t, it’s not. Keeping numbers secret is a problem of cryptography – a branch of mathematics. Well, Joe, the crypto-anarchists showed me their math. And it’s good math. It’s better than the math the government uses. Better than Simoleons’ math too. No one can mess with CryptoCredits.”
In The Diamond Age, published that same year, Stephenson writes about the “media net” an:
“An anonymous peer-to-peer communications system “designed from the ground up to provide privacy and security so that people could use it to transfer money.”
“Nation-states as we now know them have collapsed, the story explains, because “financial transactions could no longer be monitored by governments,” rendering tax collection impossible.”
Stephenson sounds like he’s very wealthy
There is further circumstantial evidence in Reamde, which follow a video game company founder who has become incredibly rich – just as Stephenson would be if he’d sat on a pile of Bitcoin.
Satoshi would be worth around $19 billion and one of the 50 wealthiest people on the planet with his 980,000 BTC stash.
In his just-released novel Fall; or, Dodge in Hell, the protagonist is a billionaire and the novel examines how large fortunes can take on a life of their own after the death of their makers.
“Just as Stephenson’s earlier works made clear that he had spent a lot of time thinking about the nature of currency and what a digital version of it might look like, Fall suggests that the dispensing of great wealth is something that has occupied his thoughts.”
Book signing as Satoshi Nakamoto
Given his work is so closely aligned with crypto, it’s no surprise there have been a few other brushes with the Satoshi name.
On Reddit four years ago, user asciimo was at a book signing for Seveneves, and jokingly wrote ‘Satoshi Nakamoto’ for Stephenson to dedicate the novel to:
“When it was my turn he looked at the post-it and scoffed, “Yeah, right.” I said, “Oh, come on!” Then I joked, “You’re the only one who knows. You inspired me.” He smiled and obliged. Then he closed the book, handed it back to me, and said, “It’s in the ledger.”
Satoshi Nakamoto sounds EXACTLY like the sort of name that Stephenson invents for his characters. (Snow Crash follows a hacked called Hiro Protagonist )
And of course, Satoshi’s initials reversed are ‘NS’.
Does the mask slip in Satoshi’s 2009 email?
In a 2009 email Satoshi wrote to Hal Finney, he referred to personalizing Bitcoin addresses and said that ‘by chance’ the following address included his initials at the start:
NS – Neal Stephenson? Did his cover slip for a moment? (Or is it just the Japanese way of writing names?).
— Roger Ver (@rogerkver) October 6, 2013
Stephenson meets Roger Ver
In 2013 early Bitcoin investor Roger Ver met Stephenson and Tweeted that he had shown him how to install a Bitcoin wallet on his phone.
I just helped Neal Stephenson, author of Cryptonomicon, setup his first Bitcoin wallet thanks to @blockchain pic.twitter.com/4vn9GcKQML
— Roger Ver (@rogerkver) October 6, 2013
Seems unusual that someone with such a high level of technical knowledge would need help installing a Bitcoin wallet but there you go.
There is of course, little in the way of conclusive evidence tying Stephenson to Satoshi and plenty of other pretenders to the throne.
Sunderland also posits the idea in the Reason piece as an interesting theory, rather than a hard fact.
As he points out: “It is possible he was and is simply drawing from the same pool of ideas and influences that eventually resulted in the creation of Bitcoin.”