The ABCs of Bitcoin Secrets

by on May 21, 2013 at 10:20 am in Current Affairs, Science | Permalink

You may perhaps have heard of the intriguing mathematician Shinichi Mochizuki who has produced an alleged proof of an important theorem that is so difficult and involves the creation of so much original mathematics and notation that no one is sure whether the proof is valid. Here is one description:

On August 31, 2012, Japanese mathematician Shinichi Mochizuki posted four papers on the Internet.

The titles were inscrutable. The volume was daunting: 512 pages in total. The claim was audacious: he said he had proved the ABC Conjecture, a famed, beguilingly simple number theory problem that had stumped mathematicians for decades.

Then Mochizuki walked away. He did not send his work to the Annals of Mathematics. Nor did he leave a message on any of the online forums frequented by mathematicians around the world. He just posted the papers, and waited.

…The problem, as many mathematicians were discovering when they flocked to Mochizuki’s website, was that the proof was impossible to read. The first paper, entitled “Inter-universal Teichmuller Theory I: Construction of Hodge Theaters,” starts out by stating that the goal is “to establish an arithmetic version of Teichmuller theory for number fields equipped with an elliptic curve…by applying the theory of semi-graphs of anabelioids, Frobenioids, the etale theta function, and log-shells.”

This is not just gibberish to the average layman. It was gibberish to the math community as well.

“Looking at it, you feel a bit like you might be reading a paper from the future, or from outer space,” wrote Ellenberg on his blog.

“It’s very, very weird,” says Columbia University professor Johan de Jong, who works in a related field of mathematics.

Mochizuki had created so many new mathematical tools and brought together so many disparate strands of mathematics that his paper was populated with vocabulary that nobody could understand. It was totally novel, and totally mystifying.

But there may be more secrets, secrets upon secrets because Ted Nelson has recently argued that this same mathematician, Shinichi Mochizuki, is also the elusive Satoshi Nakamoto who unleashed bitcoin on the world and then disappeared. Now this is almost too delicious to be true so take it with more than a grain of salt. Mochizuki, for example, has bona fides as a mathematician but he does not appear to have a record of sophisticated software creation. But if true, this would be awesome.

Hat tip: Barry Klein

1 George May 21, 2013 at 10:47 am

I’m pretty sure that Shinichi Mochizuki has nothing to do with Bitcoin. See this article:

2 Hazel Meade May 21, 2013 at 10:57 am

IIRC “Satoshi Nakamoto” did not actually code the Bitcoin codebase. What he did was post an outline for how a digitcal currency could work on an online forum, and then the readership, and open source community coded it up according to his specifications, with some back and forth discussion along the way.

3 gwern May 21, 2013 at 11:00 am

Citation needed.

4 Clark Minor May 21, 2013 at 11:26 am

No, Satoshi definitely wrote the first version of the client. Sure, he released the white paper first, but he had been working on the project long before he announced it on the cryptography mailing list.

Also, Tim Nelson’s claims are very strange. I’m pretty confident (probability near 1) that Shinichi Mochizuki is not Satoshi. Here’s some comments I posted on Hacker News about this whole thing:

5 Dan Weber May 21, 2013 at 11:18 am

This just reads like nonsense. This post, I mean.

Watching non-cryptographers try to discredit the crypto of Bitcoin is like watching, well, like watching non-economist Bitcoin enthusiasts try to describe why their deflationary currency is actually a good economic idea.

6 Rahul May 21, 2013 at 11:57 am

Where was the attempt to “discredit the crypto of Bitcoin “? Did I just miss it?

7 Hazel Meade May 21, 2013 at 2:36 pm

I agree with you there. I don’t think bitcoin is likely to make a basis for an alternative currency, and I’m dismayed by the enthusiasts (mostly libertarian) getting suckered into what (IMO) is a bit of a scam, or at least something that is destined to collapse horribly. I also don’t think it’s going to do any long-term good to the idea of alternate currencies or libertarianism when it blows up in people’s faces.

8 kulanapan June 3, 2013 at 1:14 am

If you assume that BitCoin is “destined to collapse horribly,” but you also accept that BitCoin is very similar to gold in the basic qualities of money – having scarcity, durability,divisibility, consistency, and portability, then logically you must conclude that BitCoin can only collapse in the same or similar manner that gold collapsed…by fiat, or government decree. For BitCoin to collapse, the government would have to declare it illegal to trade in BitCoin (but even then, it would still go on existing, because you can’t “outlaw” the internet with any kind of success). Gold didn’t collapse on its own. It collapsed when the government allowed banks to suspend specie payments on banknotes.

A deflationary currency is the only successful kind of currency. There is nothing inherently wrong with deflation. Problems arise when the demand for money is grossly out of whack with the supply, such as when the Fed prints $1000 billion new dollars a year during a slow-growth period. When the supply of a currency is tampered with artificially, its loses a key characteristic of money – scarcity. When you start destroying the characteristic of money, you set in motion a whole set of destructions, and you make other currencies more attractive.

9 Douglas Knight May 21, 2013 at 12:35 pm

The great mystery is: does Ted Nelson actually believe this?

10 Douglas Knight May 21, 2013 at 1:12 pm

Everything Nelson says about Mochizuki is taken from Chen’s article. All his errors are from there, including some corrected later in the article. But that doesn’t really address my question.

11 charlie May 21, 2013 at 12:45 pm

easy way to distinguish tyler vs. alex post — use of “awesome”.

12 Tom Braun May 21, 2013 at 2:09 pm

More generally, Alex exhibits actual, human emotions.

13 Dan Weber May 21, 2013 at 4:11 pm

That will make him harder to upload.

14 brian h. May 21, 2013 at 5:06 pm

Nelson’s theory is ridiculous imo. Being a talented mathematician doesn’t make you a cryptographer, a programmer, or a person with an interest in crypto-currency. Nick Szabo (on the crypto mailing list, established interest in crypto currency, etc.) is a possibility, although i don’t know if he has the technical skills or not. On his website, you can see that he was thinking/writing about bitcoin related topics a lot during the period when bitcoin protocol was presumably being created.

15 elan May 21, 2013 at 5:38 pm

Extremely unlikely.

The cryptographic math behind Bitcoin is elementary and built entirely out of well-known previously published results. Its simplicity is key to its safety (who would trust an incomprehensible algorithm?).

Satoshi’s accomplishment was one of engineering. He was the first to assemble all those blocks into a single system, think through the use cases and infrastructural implications, and build a reliable client with features necessary to mainstream adoption such as a GUI. It was also one of marketing: describing the system such that anarchists, libertarians, monetarists, cypherpunks, and what-have-you would glom onto it as promoting their beliefs.

But the math was not the clever part.

Also Satoshi’s paper was clear, terse, and with the diction of a native English speaker. Mochizuki’s paper is mathematical glossolalia.

16 TR W May 22, 2013 at 6:06 pm

I said it last year when Shinichi Mochizuki’s claims were made public, they are bogus. Last year, mathematicians basically said Mochizuki is a respected mathematician so therefore he’s right. East Asians do not recieve the scrutiny that white and Jewish people get. There is a “good student bias” where East Asians automatically get credit without scrutiny. If a white or Jewish person put out this claim there would be a lot of harsh words spoken about it. Mochizuki has papers from atleast 2000 that have not been proven. It seems that Mochizuki is on the edges of the math community and isn’t taken seriously given that none of his work from atleast 2000 onward has been looked at that much and none of it’s been proven.

17 Eric May 23, 2013 at 6:30 am

So which is it, is Mochizuki “a respected mathematician”, or is it the case that his work “isn’t taken seriously”? Your racist rants would be less obviously stupid if they didn’t have internal contradictions, you know.

18 TR W May 24, 2013 at 12:59 am

Yes, it’s a contradiction because people automatically assume East Asians do good work and are honest and therefore don’t need any scrutiny like any other group. Last year, when his claims were made public several mathematicians said he was a respected mathematician and therefore he is likely right. There was no skepticism that he actually solved the ABC Conjecture. I then looked at his other claims and found none of them were proven from atleast the year 2000. There is little interest around his work from other mathematicians. They are not investing their time in proving his claims yet somehow he has a good reputation. It’s a contradiction.

19 Nemo May 23, 2013 at 9:50 am

I have spent some time reading the Bitcoin source code, most of which was written by Satoshi. I have also seen a fair amount of code written by mathematicians. (It comes with the day job.)

In my opinion, the probability that Bitcoin was coded by a mathematician is precisely zero. Ask any experienced software engineer even to glance at the sources, and he or she will tell you the same thing.

This is actually one of the stupidest suggestions I have ever heard.

20 elan May 23, 2013 at 5:49 pm

So now that we all agree Ted Nelson is spouting preposterous nonsense, what do we do about it?

21 Andrew Stewart May 23, 2013 at 10:29 am

I heard he’s also the legendary

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