By Kevin Smith, San Gabriel Valley Tribune
TEMPLE CITY >> Bidwell Street resident Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto doesn’t appear to be an economic innovator.
He was certainly a sought-after celebrity Thursday however, at one point acknowledging “I’m the guy.”
But what guy?
An online report published Thursday by Newsweek magazine says the quiet 64-year-old Temple City resident and Cal Poly Pomona graduate is, in fact, the architect of Bitcoin, an innovative virtual currency.
But then in an exclusive two-hour interview with The Associated Press, Nakamoto said he had never heard of Bitcoin until three weeks ago, after his son told him he had been contacted by a reporter.
It was the possibility of uncovering the inventor of Bitcoin that brought out dozens of reporters to Nakamoto’s modest family home.
While Bitcoins are nothing more than computer codes that can be sent anywhere in the world without being subject to banking and exchange fees, the exotic new form of money is designed to be nimble, efficient and near impossible to counterfeit or manipulate, according to supporters.
Which made the idea of talking to the currency’s secretive designer so enticing.
No one answered the door earlier Thursday at Nakamoto’s Bidwell street home. But neighbor Evelyn Koskie, who lives two doors to the right, said the whole thing — if in fact true — was a surprise to her.
“I just found out about it on the Internet,” she said. “I was just kind of surprised … shocked. Then we had these all of these media people up and down the street with cameras and tripods.”
Ron Allard, who lives around the corner on Loma Avenue, said he wouldn’t put his trust in Bitcoins.
“I’d be afraid of all the hackers getting access,” he said. “That would be my main concern.”
Fred Hill, owner of The Original Whistle Stop model train store on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, said Nakamoto has been a longtime customer.
“Dorian is a great guy,” Hill said. “Very accomplished at model railroads and he builds his own locomotives. I know he worked for the government on a lot of secret stuff but I never asked about it. He’s an extremely intelligent individual and very well versed. He could talk to you about anything.”
“I messed around with it a couple years ago, but I just didn’t see any value in it,” Hill said. “There’s no place where you can spend the stuff. I like hard dollars … the Benjamin Franklins.”
Southland economist Christopher Thornberg of Beacon Economics has some definite thoughts about Bitcoin.
“The whole idea is a little preposterous, isn’t it?” Thornberg said. “Here we have some guy who came up with a virtual currency. How is that any different than me going into my garage and printing up money with my name on it? Or with Alfred E. Newman’s picture — ‘In currency we trust?’”
Thornberg said the U.S. financial system operates under strict control of the nation’s central banks, which have instituted a variety of security safeguards that make U.S. currency far more secure than Bitcoin.
“That has always worked for us,” he said.
Thornberg did acknowledge, however, that the average consumer’s use of debit and credit cards are also part of a virtual exchange system that bears some similarities to Bitcoin.
“I have a number that tells me how much money I have in my bank account,” he said. “But that’s not made up of money that’s sitting in a vault somewhere. I use my piece of plastic and tell my bank to use those digital numbers to wire the money to someplace else. It sure sounds a hell of a lot like Bitcoin.”
Maureen Burton, a professor emeritus in economics at Cal Poly Pomona, Nakamoto’s alma mater, isn’t a fan of Bitcoin either.
“There is no control by a government and the transactions can be anonymous,” she said. “Bitcoins have been used in a lot of illegal activity with drugs, money laundering and even soliciting murder. The currency would be hard to track.”
Brown said currency that exists outside the control of the nation’s central bank also has big implications for the ability of the Federal Reserve to affect the economy.
There is support for Bitcoin, but the currency’s promise fell apart when it was recently revealed that Mt. Gox, a Tokyo-based Bitcoin exchange, was missing 740,000 Bitcoins, according to documents reportedly leaked from the company.
The value of that loss translated to roughly $400 million, although that figure may be fuzzy given Bitcoin’s extreme volatility.
The story took another tragic twist when the CEO of First Meta, a virtual exchange, was found dead Thursday at her home in Singapore.
Police found 28-year-old Autumn Radtke lying motionless near the apartment tower where she lived. Her death has been classified as “unnatural,” which can mean an accident, misadventure or suicide.
First Meta allows users of virtual currencies such as Bitcoin to trade and cash out the currencies. It is one of several such exchanges.
When Bitcoins are sent somewhere they can be stored in a computer hard drive or cellphone until they are used again. But since the currency is computer code it can be lost if a hard drive crashes or stolen if hackers find their way into the system.
Daily Breeze staff writer Richard Irwin and the Associated Press contributed to this report.