In Budapest, there is a bust by the Danube River. The face is bronze, and blank, so people can see their own faces reflected back at them. It is wearing a hoodie, with the bitcoin logo on the chest.
It is a statue of the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto. Nakamoto is the person or persons who developed bitcoin. They are anonymous and pseudonymous.
They created a decentralised, digital commodity which is now worth more than a trillion dollars globally.
It is a peer-to-peer way of transferring money, skipping the banks. It’s encrypted with blockchain technology, which creates digital signatures to prove where the bitcoin has come from.You may have heard about Australian Craig Wright, who has been in the news recently thanks to a court case in the US.
Wright is an influential entrepreneur. He might be Nakamoto. But he also might not. It is a mystery he could, in theory, solve in seconds (more of that later).
This week Wright was fighting claims from the family of his deceased business partner, David Kleiman, that the pair co-created bitcoin. Therefore, they argued, half of more than $50bn of the original bitcoin belonged to them.
Wright won the battle – a Florida jury found he did not owe the money. His lawyers said the pair were friends who worked together, but that their partnership was nothing to do with bitcoin’s creation.
But behind that court case is a bigger story. Those bitcoin could only be owned by someone who was involved with the venture from the beginning – Nakamoto.
Wright says he is Nakamoto, and Nakamoto is accepted as the creator of bitcoin. And to prove he is Nakamoto, Wright needs to show he controls some of those original bitcoin.
Bitcoin expert Dr David Glance, a University of Western Australia computer scientist, says such a feat would be akin to King Arthur pulling Excalibur from stone. A proof of rightful ownership.
“If you’re going to prove you are who you say you are, you just have to prove you have that key (to the bitcoin),” he says.
“You don’t have to spend it, just move it from one account to another.”
Of course, he says, it’s possible that Wright, or Nakamoto (or whoever he/she/they is/are) could have lost that key.
Earlier this year the New York Times reported that as much as $140bn worth of bitcoin is lost to people who have forgotten or misplaced their keys. A UK man, Stefan Thomas, is one person who forgot his password, which would unlock hundreds of millions of dollars.
When you create bitcoin, Glance says, it’s there, it’s available, it’s owned by the person who “mined” it. (Essentially huge amounts of computer power are used to solve algorithms to create new bitcoins.)
That person then has the key to that bitcoin.