Satoshi Nakamoto is the person or persons who are responsible for the creation of Bitcoin by releasing its whitepaper in 2008. This person, or collective, also was responsible for the majority of the mining at the beginning of Bitcoin’s existence. As a result, their private keys hold about 980,000 Bitcoins, which have been left untouched since Satoshi exited the community. What is the future of this fortune?
Scenario 1: Quantum Computing Makes Satoshi’s Fortune Vulnerable
There are a few projects dedicated to cracking private keys from public keys in the Bitcoin space. One of them is the Large Bitcoin Collider, which has been the subject of some controversy in the past. Despite the drama that has surrounded it, the Collider has successfully cracked a few private keys. However, the computing power required to do so is unfeasible for any large-scale attack on specific wallets, at least currently. Quantum computing will be a different matter altogether, though.
Quantum computing will one day threaten the Bitcoin network. For active members of the community, it won’t be a problem at all, since new SHAs that are quantum resistant will be developed and deployed. However, inactive users who don’t update their wallets – including Satoshi and his 980,000 Bitcoins – this could be a real problem. Private keys could be cracked, and the associated coins could then be transferred to attackers’ wallets. Satoshi’s fortune may be stolen.
Scenario 2: Satoshi Comes Back
At current Bitcoin prices, Satoshi Nakamoto is worth about US$14 billion, comfortably putting them among the top 250 richest individuals in the world. While Satoshi may not have been terribly interested in returning in the past, as Bitcoin’s price continues to grow, this may become more and more tempting, especially if the possibility I outlined above comes true. If Satoshi is wealthy enough that they don’t worry about those 980,000 Bitcoins, they must be pretty well off already. Having said that, US$14+ billion is enough that I think anyone would be tempted to try and protect it from thieves.
If Satoshi comes back, we will be in for an interesting time. This figure has become somewhat religious in nature, and many people will assign them (clearly unwanted) responsibility for the fate of the network. “What would Satoshi do?” seems to underpin many arguments in any debate that arises in the Bitcoin community. For this reason, I truly hope that Satoshi never comes back. Proof-of-personality is unattractive and, frankly, dangerous for crypto-communities. It’s all meant to be distributed.
While I doubt Satoshi will come back, even to claim their fortune, it is still possible.
Scenario 3: Satoshi Never Comes Back, Quantum Computing Doesn’t Threaten Their Keys
It is theoretically possible that quantum computing i) won’t happen, or ii) won’t happen the way that we think it will. Scenario 1 is not possible, and scenario 2 is unnecessary. Honestly, this is what I hope will happen. I don’t want Satoshi to come back, but I also do not want their coins to be stolen. Of course, I realize this means I am okay with the fact that almost 1 million of the 21 million Bitcoins that exist will be locked up and lost forever. This has its own set of issues, but that’s for another article.