Battle of the Blockchains

    Here he comes, the sainted Satoshi, revealed at last as . . . the ignominious Craig Steven Wright. Isn’t his halo a bit awry? Do we really have the right guy? The truest believers seem to be the Australian Tax Office, but they want to put him in prison stripes.

    No one expected the exalted Satoshi to have emerged from a wilderness of casino sites with names such as Centrebet and Bodog. But Reuters’ analysis of early bitcoin software provided by Wright indicates that “bitcoin grew out of code originally developed with online poker in mind.” His prime credit before bitcoin was probably Lasseter’s Online, arguably the first Internet casino, and profitable until the United States government banned online gambling in 2006. Wright’s ventures have a way of incurring the wrath of authority.

    Having devoted much of his life, by his own account, to proving himself to a mostly absent father, Wright has studied for degrees in everything from nuclear physics to statistics and has purported to hold a doctorate in computer science.
    But Australia’s Charles Sturt University acknowledges awarding him only two computer science master’s degrees. Wright can never quite consummate the paper-work for academic laurels. His firmest credential is in network security audits (GIAC-SANS), and his best-documented Ph.D. is in theology, where he wrestles with the ultimate Father and deems him also absent or inattentive.

    For a living, he served as a consultant-accountant in investigatory computer forensics and other network and cybersecurity jobs. He launched a series of computer-re-lated startups, climaxing with Hotwire Preemptive Intelligence Group, which sought to establish Denariuz as the first bitcoin bank. It failed to passmuster with regulators and died in 2014. The founder of a consulting firm named after the mathematician De Morgan, Wright managed to end up in jail briefly for defying an injunction to stop marketing to its customers after he was thrown out.

    Most of his various other companies failed. So who is this troubled, triple-ledgered, declamatory, “hard-forking” computer scientist hustler Craig Wright? Anyone who wants to know him can consult his biographer, Andrew O’Hagan, who lived intimately with Wright during the critical six months in 2016 when he presented himself as Satoshi and then botched his proofs to the press.

    Cashiered and discredited by the Economist, the Financial Times, the BBC, GQ, and scores of vitriolic cyberpunks, he fled the stage in tears and tatters. It is all recorded in O’Hagan’s masterly 36,000-word essay in the June 2016 London Review of Books.1 But Satoshi devotees may not be eager to read it. As O’Hagan writes, “Satoshi was loved by bitcoin fans for making a beautiful thing and then disappearing. They don’t want Satoshi to be wrong or contradictory, boastful or short-tempered, and they really don’t want him to be a 45-year-old Australian called Craig.”

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    Tall, dark-haired, Hollywood-handsome, contradictory, libertarian, boastful, and short-tempered, Wright smacks of a cypherpunk Donald Trump. Or as his Sydney project manager put it, “He’s like Steve Jobs, only worse.”

    O’Hagan’s saga opens cinematically on December 9, 2015, with the woebegone Aussie in a rush to the airport from his police-thronged Sydney home, discovering on the way that he has forgotten his passport. Creeping back against the advice of his Asian wife, Ramona, he hides until the police give up and leave. He retrieves the crucial document, only to be apprehended again at his plane’s gate. Bluffing his way onto a flight, he gets to Auckland, New Zealand, where he picks up a “Billabong” surfers’ tee shirt that he still occasionally wears as a gesture of rakish defiance. He ends up safely in London, where he remains.

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