Examining Satoshi: What the Malmi Emails Disclose About the Person who Created Bitcoin

The 260 emails are 140,000 words lengthy, or the length of a long novel, but they contain a “trove” of original historical data on the early days of Bitcoin from Satoshi Nakamoto, the person who created the cryptocurrency, and Martti Malmi, one of its early developers.

A portion of the content that Malmi released last week is not brand-new. It contains previously seen excerpts from Bitcoin’s “question and answer dump,” for example, thus one should proceed with caution when asserting brand-new discoveries.

Even said, the email correspondence, mostly between Malmi and Satoshi, between May 2009 and February 2011, paints Bitcoin’s anonymous creator in a maybe more relaxed and real light than has previously been generally reported.

He is both wise and ignorant at the same time. For example, he predicted in 2009 that Bitcoin’s energy-intensive proof-of-work validation process would lead to certain ecological or environmental issues down the road. He calls it “ironic if we end up having to choose between conservation and economic liberty.”

But he doesn’t appear to understand the scaling issues with Bitcoin. In an email dated May 3, 2009, he writes:

Why is the letter only now appearing? As he stated in the GitHub post, Malmi did “not feel comfortable sharing private correspondence earlier,” but he changed his mind after “an important trial in the U.K. in 2024 where I was a witness.” By this, he meant the lawsuit that a group of cryptocurrency exchanges and developers filed against Craig Wright, who went on to claim to be Satoshi Nakamoto.

We asked a number of informed industry sources last week about their thoughts on this email bonanza and whether or not it furthers our knowledge of the background of Bitcoin and its enigmatic founder.

When asked if he noticed anything unexpected in the email hoard, Jeremy Clark—co-author with Arvind Narayanan of a widely-cited 2017 article on Bitcoin’s forerunners—spoke in response.

While noting that there are quotations from prior emails that have already been made public, Clark noted that the “tone was much more conversational and informal than Satoshi’s postings on the mailing list [a historic document]”. As a result, it might be challenging to see which quotes are fresh and which are not.

For example, Satoshi mentions the Elliptic Curve Digital Signature Algorithm (EC-DSA), a cryptographically safe digital signature system, in email #3 (May 3, 2009): “But unlike RSA, EC-DSA can only be used to verify signatures; it cannot encrypt messages.” Even still, Clark pointed out that this is not new.

“It seems to me that Satoshi is not an expert in cryptography because, strictly speaking, EC-DSA cannot do encryption, but an EC-DSA public key can do encryption — for instance, with Elgamal encryption.”
“With the utmost respect to the author of one of the most widely cited cryptography papers ever published,” Clark continued.

Clark, an associate professor at Concordia University in Canada, was taken aback by Satoshi’s somewhat non-woke language. The creator of Bitcoin quips, “I know this sounds really r*tarded,” at one point. [Email #24].

It didn’t age well, according to Clark.

In fact, Clark went on, it stands in stark contrast to “his hesitancy to swear generally.” As one illustration, “Sourceforge is just so incredibly slow.” [email 45] “I’ve thoroughly tested it [email #44].”

Was he raised in a religious home? the South of the USA? I get the impression that he’s not that old from some of the other terminology he uses, like screwed, goofball, sweet, newbies, and suck. Clark remarked, “He speaks like I did back then. I was born in the early 1980s.

Other readers commented on Satoshi’s wording. Satoshi refers to the disco/web-1990s in email #117.

According to Jan Lansky, who is in charge of the computer science and mathematics department at the University of Finance and Administration in Prague, “this suggests that he was an active internet user in the 1990s.”

Satoshi uses the source code keyword “loop” in email #118. Lansky went on, “In programming languages, this keyword is used very rarely.” In fact, Lansky conducted a search and discovered that it was utilized in the stack-based Forth computer language, which was similar to the scripting language employed by Bitcoin. Lansky continued:

“The Forth language was never widely used; it was primarily used in embedded systems and telecommunications in the 1970s and 1980s.”
So maybe Satoshi was employed in the telecom sector?

What is Satoshi’s Day Job?

It’s possible that Satoshi did not even use programming in his daily work. “Returning to coding is a pleasure!” On October 16, 2009, Satoshi declares (email #35).

He doesn’t say it’s fantastic to be coding on Bitcoin again; he just says it’s good to be coding again, Clark said, perhaps reading too much into this:

“This begs the question of whether his day job, which he claims keeps him too busy to work on Bitcoin in [the Malmi] emails, does not require coding.”
Why Satoshi left Bitcoin in early 2011 and gave the reins to Gavin Andresen is a question that is frequently posed. Perhaps a taxing “day job” contributed to it. If true, this is a less spectacular tale than some other conjecture, such the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) going after the creator of Bitcoin.

“Over the past month and a half, I’ve been busy with other things,” Satoshi writes in email #192 dated May 16, 2010. “Since early April, I haven’t downloaded my email until now […] I need a break from work after 18 months of development, therefore I won’t be able to help much either at this time.

“This is the best picture of why Satoshi left” the scene, Clark claims. “He just burned out,” and it had nothing to do with the CIA or any other ominous events.

Clark added, “Every break you take results in a bigger stack of things to go through, which makes you more likely to put it off.” as Bitcoin gained popularity. At some point, Satoshi “just ghosted the project and gave up.”

Malmi assists in identifying Satoshi’s successor after he decides to step back from day-to-day Bitcoin-related activities: on December 3, 2010 (email #240), he asks, “Should we make a recruitment thread on the forum?”

The same day, Satoshi responds to email #241, saying, “Gavin [Andresen] should be the one.” I have faith in him since he is more technically proficient in Linux than I am, responsible, and professional.

Email #242, sent three days later, is Malmi’s response. “Ok, I’ll ask him.”

Chaum vs. Satoshi

In email #3, Martien van Steenbergen asks, “Is this akin to David Chaum’s anonymous digital money?” regarding Bitcoin’s new payment mechanism.

In an effort to clarify the distinctions between his creation and Chaum’s DigiCash, Satoshi adds. Was Satoshi right all along? Did he see how all the trials with centralized money would be surpassed by a decentralized currency?

“The central point of failure in Chaum’s centralized approach is its center,” said Steenbergen, a senior coach, trainer, and product owner for agile and lean management at AardRock in the Netherlands. Thus, Satoshi is not entirely wrong. The thing with Bitcoin that I dislike is how much energy it uses to mine the currencies, as we have seen over the years. I also hate how concentrated its wealth is. A distributed, inexpensive, open-source, safe, and secure system that benefits everyone, not just a select few, is what the world needs.

“There were many centralized electronic money systems at that time, and they all failed one after another precisely because the central authority failed,” Lansky continued. Additionally, Satoshi was familiar with state banking systems from the past, which typically collapse after decades.

The emails also touch on the subject of Bitcoin’s possible energy waste, yet in 2009, Bitcoin BTC Mining used very little electricity. According to Digiconomist, Bitcoin’s annualized electricity usage now is around the same as that of Ukraine, and its carbon footprint is about the same as that of Romania.

In email #3, Satoshi addresses the potentially unsettling trade-off between energy saving and security, as offered by Bitcoin’s energy-intensive proof-of-work validation method. He observes the irony of having to decide “between economic liberty and conservation” at some point, as cited above.

Satoshi goes on, “I think it would still be less wasteful than the labor and resource intensive conventional banking activity it would replace, even if it [i.e., Bitcoin] did grow to consume significant energy.”

Perhaps Satoshi wasn’t as “green” as we thought?

That’s not how Vili Lehdonvirta, professor of economic sociology and digital social research at the University of Oxford’s Oxford Internet Institute, sees it. It is unquestionably not very green. It’s a “whatabout” argument of sorts, but it falls flat even there because the bitcoin sector ultimately resulted in enormous amounts of spam and other wasteful labor and resources.

Exposing Satoshi: Is it significant?

Do the emails, taken as a whole, help us discover who the real creator of Bitcoin is? If not, ought we to be concerned?

“They surfaced in the trial because they aid in the elimination of candidates.”Perhaps there are a few little hints, but in my opinion there aren’t enough publicly available details about Satoshi to conclude who he is.

He’s clearly not Japanese, Lehdonvirta remarked. “But we already knew that.”

Recent: The implications of the Bitcoin halving on the centralization of BTC mining

It might not matter if we never find out who Satoshi is. What matters is the system, which is independent of any one person, business, or governmental entity.

Alternatively, as cryptographer Michael Clear stated to the New Yorker in 2011: “The network isn’t controlled by any one entity, and anybody can review the code.” That’s what gives people faith in the system.

Perhaps that’s why Satoshi was able to simply walk away.

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