The conference hall of the New York Marriott Marquis was in a fever. Today was the first day of Consensus 2016, the second annual blockchain technology summit. Blockchain is the underlying mechanism for bitcoin, and the conference has been shaken by the possible unmasking of the electronic currency’s mysterious inventor. The BBC and the Economist published Craig Wright’s claim to be Satoshi Nakamoto early this morning. Wright had been rumoured to be the father of bitcoin since December 2015, but he’d always denied it, until today.
I had just finished writing an article for the LRB and was attaching it to an email when suddenly all the files saved as icons on my screen vanished. I thought at first I had pressed some wrong and incomprehensible button – something that happens to me – when a message flashed up on my screen telling me that all my files were gone. If I wanted them back I would have to pay the equivalent of $500 in Bitcoins (at the current rate of exchange, that was 2.3 Bitcoins) within 130 hours, after which the sum would rise to $1000. Absurdly, I thought of Tarquinius bidding for the Sibylline books of prophecy, and every time he said the price was too high, the Sibyl burns three books and offers the remainder at the same price. Clearly, I was in that sort of auction. To help concentrate the mind the time remaining was set out in hours, minutes and seconds, with each second ticking off: looking at this merely increases one’s manic state as the loss of all one’s files kicks in. I was always promising myself to back everything up but hadn’t.