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Does Bitcoin’s Satoshi Nakamoto have a dead man’s switch?

Bitcoin soared to an all-time high this week thanks to massive inflows from newly launched ETFs, which signaled to many that the original cryptocurrency—once derided by Wall Street as a scam—is a legitimate mainstream investment. That’s a view that I hold but, at the same time, Bitcoin is still subject to some particular risks that, while unlikely, could deliver a price shock. One that has been on my mind (and that I wrote about at length here) is the influence of Satoshi Nakamoto, who owns over a million Bitcoins that haven’t moved in well over a decade.

Everyone assumes that Satoshi will never return to oversee his creation, and I agree with that. He or she declared their work to be done in 2011 and, aside from a short message in 2014, no more has been heard from them since. There is no reason to return as Bitcoin’s code is safe and in good hands, and coming back would make Satoshi a target of criminals and government investors across the world. But what happens to Satoshi, and all those Bitcoins, when they die?

I spoke this week with Seth Ginns, a partner at the longtime crypto investment firm CoinFund, and he raised an interesting possibility: That Satoshi could have set up a dead man’s switch for when he passes. The name sounds like something out of a spy movie, but these switches aren’t that uncommon—you can set one on your Gmail account—and simply describe an automated process that will go into effect if the person who set the switch does (or more typically does not) do something.

In the case of Satoshi, a brilliant programmer, it would be a simple task for them to arrange for an authenticated message to be broadcast when their real name appears in an obituary or something like that. As Ginns notes, a message from a verified Satoshi account that Bitcoin’s creator has passed would likely trigger a price surge as investors knew once and for all that the one individual with outsize influence over the currency was gone forever.

There’s also the question of what would happen to the million-plus Bitcoins in Satoshi’s wallets. The most likely answer by far is nothing, but it’s also not out of the question that Satoshi presumably has loved ones and wants to provide them security. Ginns, however, observed that Satoshi likely controls other wallets not identified with them, and could well have cashed out and hooked up their family already. Even if there is a dead man’s switch that triggers instructions to sell Satoshi’s fortune, Ginns says the market would be able to absorb the shock and would eventually rally as the currency became more decentralized than ever.

The reality, though, remains that we are unlikely to hear from Satoshi ever again. Nonetheless, as the creator of Bitcoin retreats deeper into myth, it’s fun to imagine the black swan event of them returning with one final message. Have a great weekend.

Sources: Yahoo Finance

Disclaimer: Yahoo, previously known as Verizon Media, is a technology and media company that provides a range of services

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