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Global ho-hum greets hubbub over bitcoin's creator

Published: Friday, March 7, 2014 7:52 p.m. CDT

LOS ANGELES – Who is bitcoin’s real creator? The bitcoin community is reacting to that burning question with a collective ho-hum.

Developers and bitcoin enthusiasts from Finland to Texas are downplaying the media frenzy that occurred Thursday after Newsweek identified the digital currency’s creator as a Japanese American living in Southern California, only to have the man vehemently deny it to The Associated Press.

The furor, they say, means little to bitcoin’s future and whether it becomes officially recognized by the governments and the financial community as a viable form of money.

The written computer code that underpins bitcoin has changed dramatically since its inception in 2009, spawning a generation of entrepreneurs seeking to ride its growing popularity to newfound wealth.

And while most bitcoin users and investors maintain a healthy interest in learning the true identity of the person behind the cryptocurrency, they say the financial platform’s maintenance and growth depends on the many creators who are working on it now.

“From an engineering perspective, Satoshi gave up control on Jan. 5, 2009, when he birthed the first bitcoin transaction,” said Jeff Garzik, a member of the seven member Bitcoin Core Development Team that controls what happens to the currency’s central code today. “He created an organism, and he gave it life and he released it into the wild for it to do as it does.”

Garzik doesn’t believe Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto – the man who denied the Newsweek story – is the same “Satoshi Nakamoto” who posted the original written bitcoin proposal in 2008 and followed it up with code the following year.

Gregory Maxwell, another bitcoin core developer based in Mountain View, Calif., said he has “immense respect” for the bitcoin creator but doesn’t care who it is or what the person’s motivation was.

The genius of bitcoin is it doesn’t require trusting anyone at all.

“If the creator of bitcoin mattered to our ability to use it, then bitcoin has failed in its technological goals,” he said.

Some bitcoin supporters are upset by the quest to identify the currency’s creator because they say the sleuthing and stalking represents a blatant invasion into the privacy of a person or group that clearly wants to remain anonymous.

“Whoever created bitcoin sent it out into the wild and dropped off the face of the earth,” said Will Yager, 18, a bitcoin developer who attends the University of Texas in Austin. “They always intended bitcoin to be something that transcended them. Bitcoin’s function as a system does not depend on its creator’s function as a person.”

Another bit bitcoin developer, Thomas Grainger of London, said he is curious about who really created the currency, although he concedes that knowledge won’t affect how the system works. “It won’t help remove some of the mythology, though,” Grainger, 23, said.

The publicity surrounding whether the Nakamoto living in southern California created the currency also is likely to help raise awareness about bitcoin and prod more people to take the time to learn how the it works, Grainger said. “It’s nice that a mathematical curiosity makes international news,” he said.

Yager also sees some potential advantages in the media’s fascination with bitcoin, though he worries things are starting to spiral out of control.

“It’s a good thing that people are learning about bitcoin, but I don’t want bitcoin to become known for the zany actions surrounding it,” Yager said.

The technology that makes bitcoin work matters more than the people who created it, said Stefan Thomas of San Francisco, another bitcoin enthusiast.

“It’s understandable that a lot of people want to put a face to the name that has inspired a fundamental shift in our understanding of how financial systems should be organized,” Thomas wrote in an email interview. “However, beyond that, I don’t think it would change much [about how bitcoin works].”

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