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Bitcoin founder unmasked? Not everyone is so sure

Bitcoin
Chris Ratcliffe | Bloomberg | Getty Images

He's absolutely sure beyond a reasonable doubt — even if few others are.

At the Consensus 2016 event in midtown Manhattan on Monday, surrounded by longtime bitcoin believers, speculative investors and many in between, early bitcoin developer Gavin Andresen stood on stage and declared that he was confident he knew who had created the powerful technology.

That is, Andresen — the chief scientist for the Bitcoin Foundation and a longtime member of the cryptocurrency's primary development community — said he was not troubled by the outcry of criticism that had erupted since multiple media outlets reported an Australian entrepreneur's claims that he was the notoriously secretive Satoshi Nakamoto.

"I still believe that Craig Wright is, beyond a reasonable doubt, Satoshi Nakamoto," Andresen said Monday during a panel at the conference — an event focused on bitcoin and distributed ledger technology — adding that his recent blog post to that effect was not the result of a hacking as some had claimed.

And Andresen's opinion is hard to discount: He was the core developer of bitcoin's code for many of its early years. In fact, he's been deemed "the man who really built bitcoin," for his work after Nakamoto apparently put him in charge.

But at that Monday panel, only a few hours after Andresen had told the world he was confident Wright was the technology's true creator, others were pushing back.

"I think he's not Satoshi," Vitalik Buterin, the founder of bitcoin competitor (or compliment, depending on who you ask) Ethereum, said as Andresen wrapped up — echoing a sentiment expressed by many others at the event.

A rail-thin 20-something in a t-shirt among Monday's Wall Street-heavy crowd, Buterin pitched the Nakamoto question as a simple matter of game theory: The true bitcoin creator could have chosen a clear and obvious way to show his identity, or he could have conducted a convoluted and trust-requiring proof.

"Instead he's taken this path where he wrote this big long blog post with 200 lines that are so confusing ... and tries to only show that signature to a few select people and we're supposed to trust them," Buterin said. "In general, signalling theory says that if you have a good way of proving something and a noisy way of proving something, and you choose the noisy way, that means chances are it's because you couldn't do the good way in the first place."

That good way, Buterin and others said Monday, would have involved Wright publicly proving his creator status by exhibiting his cryptographic possession of the original bitcoin data, or moving uniquely addressed bitcoins that are widely known to belong to their creator.

Speaking with CNBC, Andresen admitted that Buterin's critique was valid.

"It's an excellent point, and I don't have an answer to that," he said, adding that he is nevertheless "absolutely confident" that Wright is the man behind the Nakamoto name.

In fact, Andresen said, the proof he saw was more persuasive than any cryptographic feat with bitcoin's first data — its so-called "genesis block" — could have been. (A significant portion of the digital community appears to disagree, however, as prominent developers took to Twitter and Reddit to call for that very sort of proof.)