Satoshi Files: Wei Dai
Crypto Basics

Satoshi Files: Wei Dai

Created 5mo ago, last updated 5mo ago

Wei Dai is a computer scientist known for theorizing b-money: an anonymous, distributed cash system similar to Bitcoin.

Satoshi Files: Wei Dai

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Wei Dai is a computer scientist whose expertise in cryptography makes him one of the leading candidates to be Satoshi Nakamoto.

Source: Journal Du Coin

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Early Life

Not much is known about Wei Dai’s upbringing, personal life, or career. We know that he’s a computer scientist who graduated from Washington University at some point in the last thirty years, and that he now works as a computer scientist. Or possibly as an engineer. Or maybe something else entirely. But the available evidence suggests he’s a computer scientist.
It's clear then that Wei Dai is a private man. On his site, Dai claims that any and all online photos of him are actually other Wei Dais, and not him. This is a bit awkward considering the number of articles written about him which have photos of other Wei Dai, like the founder of a Chinese bicycle-sharing platform. In fact, when you Google “Wei Dai,” the image results next to his bio show four evidently different Asian men, apparently none of whom are the Wei Dai the bio describes (as shown in the photo below).

Even the mighty Google can’t find the real Wei Dai it seems.

The little else we know about Wei Dai relates to his passion for computer science and cryptography.

Like the other cryptographers who cut their teeth in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Wei Dai was fascinated by Timothy May’s ideas about Crypto Anarchism. May, a senior scientist at Intel, posited that computer technology and cryptography was paving the way toward a totally anonymous web; a web where people could talk and conduct business without sharing their identity or the country they worked from. Perhaps most importantly, May believes people should be able to communicate away from the prying eyes of government surveillance programs, like the NSA’s.


May’s Crypto Anarchist manifesto suggested that cryptographic tools could even bring about the end of government (hence the name “Crypto Anarchy”). “Governments will have a hard time collecting taxes, regulating the behavior of individuals and corporations (small ones at least), and generally coercing folks when it can't even tell what continent folks are on,” he said.

Connections with Bitcoin

Source: Reddit

Both Wei Dai and Timothy May belonged to a group of cryptography-activists called the Cypherpunks, who believed that cryptography and other privacy technologies could bring about meaningful social and political change. The Cypherpunks included Hal Finney, who worked with Satoshi Nakamoto during Bitcoin’s early days; Adam Back, who invented the Hashcash function used by Bitcoin; Nick Szabo, who theorized bit gold; Wikileaks founder Julian Assange; and of course Satoshi Nakamoto himself.
In addition to the Cypherpunks, Dai also belonged to SL4 – a group which discussed transhumanist issues, which relate to using technology to enhance human cognition and longevity. There, Dai spoke with early Bitcoin developer Hal Finney about topics like The Singularity – the moment at which our technology runs away from us, resulting in unpredictable and permanent change to our world.

Given his contributions to the SL4 and Cypherpunk groups, we can see that Wei Dai believed technology and cryptography could drastically alter the course of human history. But did he have what it takes to create a ground-breaking new piece of technology that could change the course of human history – like Bitcoin?


Dai is perhaps best known among cryptographers for theorizing b-money: an anonymous, distributed cash system similar to Bitcoin, which he outlined in a paper back in 1998.
Dai never launched a b-money prototype, but it’s clear from the whitepaper that it shared some noticeable similarities to Bitcoin: b-money required some amount of computational work in order to function; this computational work was stored in a public ledger and verified by the community; digital currency rewards were given for verifying work; transactions were authenticated using cryptographic hashes; and contracts were enforced by broadcasting them across the network and signing them with digital signatures. If Bitcoin had a first draft, then it was probably b-money.
Although B-money was well received by the Cypherpunks, Dai never actually built a working prototype, so his invention seemed destined to die as a theory. That was until 2008, when Adam Back – another cryptographer and Cypherpunk – was contacted by Satoshi Nakamoto, who was looking for anyone who had tried to build a digital currency. Back gave Dai’s name to Nakamoto, and Nakamoto contacted him about a week later:
“I was very interested to read your b-money page. I'm getting ready to release a paper that expands on your ideas into a complete working system.”
The paper he referred to was, of course, the Bitcoin whitepaper.
Satoshi didn’t discuss Bitcoin with Dai in detail in the email. Instead, he asked him for a citation for the b-money paper he wrote ten years previously, and then linked to a “pre-release draft” of the Bitcoin whitepaper. Dai replied with links to the original b-money paper and some archived pages where the Cypherpunks discussed it. He then told Satoshi he would look at his whitepaper sometime later.

It's plausible that when Satoshi emailed Dai, he didn’t really need anything from him, and that he was only asking for a reference to give his paper more credibility. After all, did he need to cite a paper theorizing a digital currency he hadn’t heard of until after he finished building his own digital currency?

Dai actually acknowledged this point:

“My understanding is that the creator of Bitcoin, who goes by the name Satoshi Nakamoto, didn't even read my article before reinventing the idea himself. He learned about it afterward and credited me in his paper. So my connection with the project is quite limited.”
Regardless of the true reason, Satoshi did later describe Bitcoin as an “implementation” of Wei Dai’s b-money proposal, which again seems odd considering Bitcoin was designed and built before Satoshi had heard of b-money.
Dai handed over this and one other email to Andrew Smith, a Times journalist, in March 2014. The other email was a simple exchange in which Satoshi contacted Dai to let him know Bitcoin v0.1 was up and running. Smith asked Dai how many people possessed the “necessary competencies” to create Bitcoin, to which Dai replied:
“Coming up with Bitcoin required someone who, a) thought about money on a deep level, and b) learnt the tools of cryptography, c) had the idea that something like Bitcoin is possible, d) was motivated enough to develop the idea into something practical, e) was technically skilled enough to make it secure, f) had enough social skills to build and grow a community around it."

“The number of people who even had a), b) and c) was really small -- ie, just Nick Szabo and me -- so I'd say not many people could have done all these things," Dai said.

Dai later clarified that he thought Satoshi could be a university student or a recent graduate. He said:

“When I came up with b-money I was still in college, or just recently graduated, and Nick [Szabo] was at a similar age when he came up with bit gold, so I think Satoshi could be someone like that."
Besides b-money, Dai is also well-known for having built the C++ cryptographic library, an open source and free C++ library comprising Dai’s own cryptographic algorithms and schemes. The library has been widely used by academics, students, and businesses since he released it in 1995, shortly before publishing his b-money paper. Other contributions to cryptography include the identification of vulnerabilities that affect the SSH2 protocol, VMAC Internet Draft and more.

His first name, Wei, was also chosen to be the smallest subunit of Ether, Ethereum’s native currency, thanks to Dai’s contributions to the crypto space.

Now that we’ve explored Wei Dai’s career and association with Bitcoin, let’s take a look at the evidence to determine if he could be Satoshi Nakamoto.

The Evidence That Wei Dai Could be Satoshi Nakamoto

#1 He Has the Technical Ability

Dai even acknowledges this point himself. When he was asked who could have invented Bitcoin, he provided a series of six competencies with which he felt nobody he knew matched up. In fact, suggested “just Nick Szabo and me” matched up with the first three of six.

Szabo actually suggested that Dai could be Satoshi. “Myself, Wei Dai, and Hal Finney were the only people I know of who liked the idea [digital currency] (or in Dai's case his related idea) enough to pursue it to any significant extent until Nakamoto (assuming Nakamoto is not really Finney or Dai).”

Furthermore, Dai was an expert at C++, the programming language that the Bitcoin code was written in. There are not many Satoshi suspects that had the technical background and C++ knowledge that Dai had.

Even experts agree that Wei Dai was one of the few people who could have created Bitcoin.

#2 He Proposed a Similar Idea on Digital Money Back in 1998

Dai proposed b-money, which essentially amounted to an early first draft of Bitcoin, about ten years before Satoshi published the Bitcoin whitepaper.

This doesn’t qualify as direct evidence, but it would make sense for the person who developed Bitcoin to have had a few earlier attempts in their past. The three people who have attempted to do so are Hal Finney, who created Reusable Proof Of Work; Nick Szabo, who created Bit gold; and Wei Dai, who created b-money.

#3 He Was a Cypherpunk

Satoshi Nakamoto shared the Bitcoin whitepaper with the Cypherpunks before anyone else, so it makes sense to assume that he might have joined the group before adopting his now famous pseudonym, only with a different name.

The Cypherpunks had several hundred members at their peak, so we can’t say that Dai must be Satoshi simply because he was a Cypherpunk, but it’s still useful contextual evidence.

#4 He’s a Master at Hiding His Personal Life

The fact that Wei Dai is one of the leading candidates to be Satoshi Nakamoto and yet almost nobody can find any information about him is truly remarkable. Better yet, there’s not even a verified photo of him online. This isn’t true of Nick Szabo, Half Finney, or basically any of the other people who could be Satoshi.

So given that Satoshi is obviously adept at hiding his true identity as well – could Wei Dai and Satoshi be the same person?

The Evidence That Wei Dai Is Likely Not Satoshi Nakamoto

#1 Satoshi Didn’t Know About Dai’s work Before He Created Bitcoin

Before he published the Bitcoin whitepaper, Satoshi contacted Cypherpunk Adam Back to see if he or anybody he knew had tried to build a digital currency before.

Back pointed him toward Wei Dai, which led Satoshi to reach out and email him. For this whole process to have been staged would require some truly incredible forethought from Satoshi, and would represent a false trail worthy of a Sherlock Holmes tale.

#2 He Says He Isn’t Satoshi

When Times journalist Andrew Smith asked Dai whether he knew who Satoshi was, Dai said he didn’t. He bravely speculated, however, that he was one of only two people who possessed the technical knowhow to have built Bitcoin – the other being Nick Szabo.

So, do you think Wei Dai created Bitcoin?

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