Meet Satoshi Nakamoto, the genius who invented bitcoin: Best of the Web

For a long time, the creation of online cryptocurrency bitcoin, including its complex mathematical algorithms and ‘mining’ process, has been credited to a man named Satoshi Nakamoto.

However, as Leah McGrath Goodman points out in Newsweek, who the real-life Nakamoto is – assuming there even is one – has been somewhat of a mystery:

There are several Satoshi Nakamotos living in North America and beyond – both dead and alive – including a Ralph Lauren menswear designer in New York and another who died in Honolulu in 2008, according to the Social Security Index’s Death Master File. There’s even one on LinkedIn who claims to have started Bitcoin and is based in Japan. But none of these profiles seem to fit other known details and few of the leads proved credible. Of course, there is also the chance “Satoshi Nakamoto” is a pseudonym, but that raises the question why someone who wishes to remain anonymous would choose such a distinctive name. It was only while scouring a database that contained the registration cards of naturalized U.S. citizens that a Satoshi Nakamoto turned up whose profile and background offered a potential match. But it was not until after ordering his records from the National Archives and conducting many more interviews that a cohesive picture began to take shape.

With some careful investigative work, Goodman tracks down the man she believes to be the real Nakamoto:

Far from leading to a Tokyo-based whiz kid using the name “Satoshi Nakamoto” as a cipher or pseudonym (a story repeated by everyone from Bitcoin’s rabid fans to The New Yorker), the trail followed by Newsweek led to a 64-year-old Japanese-American man whose name really is Satoshi Nakamoto. He is someone with a penchant for collecting model trains and a career shrouded in secrecy, having done classified work for major corporations and the U.S. military. Standing before me, eyes downcast, appeared to be the father of Bitcoin. Not even his family knew.

As Goodman discovered, tracking down the elusive genius behind bitcoin was just the beginning of the mystery:

But a two-month investigation and interviews with those closest to Nakamoto and the developers who worked most frequently with him on the out-of-nowhere global phenomenon that is Bitcoin reveal the myths surrounding the world’s most famous crypto-currency are largely just that – myths – and the facts are much stranger than the well-established fiction.

The war between Steve Ballmer and the board

Back in February, Satya Nadella was named as Microsoft’s new chief executive, replacing his long-time predecessor, Steve Ballmer.

Over at BusinessWeek, Dina Bass, Beth Jinks and Peter Burrows have the amazing true story of how Ballmer was forced out of his position:

For more than a decade, directors gave Ballmer what he wanted. Then two outsiders who joined the board in the first half of 2012 — Thompson, a former Symantec Corp. CEO, and Steve Luczo, CEO of Seagate Technology Plc — teamed with others to challenge him. They pressured him to move faster to compete with Apple, Google and others dominating mobile technology, fearful Microsoft would be locked out and left with the shrinking personal-computer market.

The opportunity for the new directors to strike, according to the reporters, came after a series of key new products failed to succeed as well as the company had hoped:

The seeds of Ballmer’s hastened departure were sown with the October 2012 unveiling of a new edition of the Windows operating system that he championed, a revamp of Microsoft’s mobile-phone software and the introduction of its very first tablet computer… The tablet Microsoft finally came out with in October 2012, the Surface, was a dud. Windows 8, with a touch-based design, was released to mixed reviews. The smartphone operating system, Windows Phone, wasn’t a hit either — but Ballmer remained committed to it. A deadline was looming that would result in one of his last rolls of the dice.

The decision for Microsoft to purchase Nokia reportedly drove a wedge between Ballmer and the company’s founder and then-chairman, Bill Gates:

They were frustrated by [Ballmer’s] tendency to talk more than listen, the people said, and his reaction to the pushback on Nokia was for some the last straw. The board rejected the first deal as too expensive and complex, including not only the handset division but also a mapping unit Microsoft didn’t need. Even without maps, Fitch Ratings called the price “excessive” in a note yesterday, citing a deterioration in the user base for Windows-based phones.

Differences emerged over the move into hardware, according to people familiar with the matter. Gates didn’t agree that the world’s largest software maker should produce its own mobile devices, and Ballmer was hurt that Gates didn’t back him, the people said. At November’s shareholder meeting, General Counsel Brad Smith had to persuade them to take the stage together.

Doubts about the company’s move into hardware crystallised after the company reported a large write-off on units of its Surface tablet.

Owing to poor sales of Surface, it took an unexpected $900 million charge to write down the value of inventory. That reinforced the view of some on the board that Microsoft would have a tough time expanding into hardware.

Before Nadella was named, it turns out another leading candidate was sounded out about the position – former Nokia chief executive Stephen Elop:

Ballmer asked Elop if he was interested, according to a person familiar with the matter. Worried the CEO wouldn’t have enough flexibility, Elop said he needed to hear from Gates and Thompson that they were serious about making changes, the person said, and agreed to interview after receiving assurances. Others — Mulally included — expressed concerns about the freedom they’d have with both Ballmer and Gates, the first two CEOs, on the board, people familiar with the process said.

Looking forward, the interesting thing to watch will be how well Nadella handles some of the same challenges that bought his predecessor unstuck.

The first woman to get a PhD in computer science from MIT

This week, Irene Greif, the first woman to be awarded a PhD in computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, retired after a long career at tech giant IBM. In The Atlantic, Rebecca Rosen interviews one of the tech industry’s female pioneers:

Irene Greif always thought she’d be a teacher. “For one thing,” she told me, “I’d been told by my mother that it was good to be a teacher because you just worked the hours your kids were in school and you could come home.” It had just always been the profession in the back of her mind, the default.

So then it must have been a bit of a shock when, after in 1975 becoming the first woman ever to receive a Ph.D. in computer science from MIT, Greif discovered that she didn’t really enjoy teaching—she much preferred research. And so eventually she left teaching as a professor and did what she did best: studying, thinking, and figuring systems out. She founded a research field, computer-supported cooperative work, and has spent her life figuring out how to build better systems for humans to work together.

Greif explains how her mother was a key influence in getting into IT research:

I had always liked math. My mother had always liked math. She was an accountant, so that meant adding numbers. Over my career I learned about other notions of what math is and what a mathematician does. I liked logic problems, which I think probably drove me to computer science.

Upon graduating, Leif began a career as an IT researcher Lotus Development, which was eventually purchased by IBM:

When I left academia I went to Lotus Development Corporation, so I joined IBM when we were acquired by them. I had actually worked at IBM once before as a summer intern, but this was really joining IBM, because of acquisition. It was kind of interesting—it was the first of many software acquisitions that IBM did—and it actually took, like, five years before we really had to act like IBMers. I was still part of Lotus and I ran a little research group in Lotus, but I did start—because I knew colleagues in research at IBM, I mean, it was a preeminent research institution in the world, and I had certainly known a lot of those people from conferences and so on—I started interacting with the research division, going to their strategy meetings and so on, from ’95, when we were acquired, on.

Leif finishes off with some advice for young women wanting to make a career in tech:

I often will tell young women this when I’m doing career talks: I didn’t have a planned career. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Sure, I know people who know, every couple of years, what their next move should be. And I haven’t done that, but I think I’ve taken the time at various points in my career to think about: Is this working for me? Is this right? Is it time for a change?

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