Crypto Bites: A chat with Ethereum Founder Vitalik Buterin

This Crypto Bites episode was recorded in late 2018 in New York City. The conversation between Abra founder and CEO Bill Barhydt and Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin covers a lot of ground including the origins of the idea for Ethereum, some of the problems the that Ethereum was designed to address, and what the future of the crypto space might look like, including layer two solutions and threats to distributed, permissionless blockchains.

Abra recently announced full support of native Ethereum, which means that Abra users can now deposit and withdraw ether from any other crypto wallet that supports Ethereum.

The following is a transcript of the conversation.

Bill Barhydt

Hey everyone, Bill Barhydt here.

Welcome to another edition of Crypto Bites.

I’m really excited about this one.

We’ve got a really special guest with us, who we’ll come to in a second.

And it’s been a fantastic year for Abra, thank you so much to the community who supported us.

We’ve got hundreds of thousands of users now, our community is growing every day.

We just had our best month ever at Abra.

We launched our index token, which has gotten huge adoption, the BIT10, several weeks ago.

We launched EOS a couple of weeks ago, native support for EOS inside the Abra app, so hopefully, you all can go, the EOS community, and use Abra to make your EOS investments.

And I’m super excited that we just launched native ether support for the first time in Abra, so instead of just investing in ether, you can actually do deposits and withdrawals using Abra as your core Ethereum wallet.

We think that this really sets the stage for Abra to go deep within the Ethereum community, and you’ll see lots more announcements about our support for Ethereum-based contracts in the future, so I’m really excited about that.

I’m also super excited to have Vitalik Buterin with me, I guess you call yourself the founder of Ethereum?

Vitalik Buterin

Mm-hmm.

Barhydt

So I’m curious, first of all, thank you so much for joining us, I know the community’s gonna be super excited about having you join us.

So how did you describe your role within the Ethereum project or community today?

What is your role?

Buterin

So, my role when I started was basically that I was the one who came up with the initial idea.

I wrote the white paper, I kind of sent it out to people, brought together the community initially.

Right now, I probably focus the most on, first of all, on research problems.

So we are…At some point fairly soon going to release an upgrade to Ethereum called Serenity, which will include the proof-of-stake consensus algorithm, so this is a much more efficient form of consensus than the existing proof-of-work chain.

Barhydt

Yeah, we’ll come back to that.

Buterin

Together with sharding, which is this very large, maybe 1,000X scalability improvement.

I spend a lot of my time kind of figuring out the details of that upgrade, kind of figuring out what the protocol will look like, and things like that.

I also end up participating in different other strands of research, so things around the cryptography economics, different Ethereum applications.

I do also just go around the world and kind of…Talking to different people in the Ethereum community, and different people in larger and more mainstream circles that are interested in figuring out how to use Ethereum.

Barhydt

Yeah, are you having fun?

Buterin

Yeah, yeah, this year has been great.

Barhydt

Cool, I wanna talk about that in a minute.

I think just maybe take a step back, and I think a lot of our traditional investors inside of Abra don’t know a lot about you, so maybe if you don’t mind, just introduce yourself, where you come from, how you got into this in the first place, how you went from writing about Bitcoin to even creating Ethereum.

Buterin

Sure, so I was born in Russia in 1994, six years later moved to Canada. Eleven years after that, heard about Bitcoin for the first time.

I first heard about it from my dad, then I saw it again on the internet.

I kind of thought, okay, this is an interesting idea, maybe I should kind of poke into it more.

I started poking through the Bitcoin forums.

I eventually found the guy who would pay me in Bitcoin to write articles for a blog that he was working on.

From there, I became the co-founder of Bitcoin Magazine, which was this kind of website and print publication.

Barhydt

I remember, yeah.

Buterin

That was around back during the Bitcoin early days.

Then I spent about two years working on that and kind of getting deeper and deeper into the Bitcoin community, and understanding how it works on a technical level, understanding the social and economic ideas.

Barhydt

So you’re literally one of the few people who’s probably spent close to half his life in the cryptocurrency world.

What are you, you’re probably like 24?

Buterin

Yeah 24, but eight divided by 24 is 1/3, it’s not quite 1/2.

Barhydt

Wow, but even that is incredible, right?

Buterin

I guess.

Barhydt

Well, for me it is, because when you were born, I was at Netscape, right?

So the idea that you could even spend 1/3 of your life specifically, not in cryptography, because I’ve been doing that as well since I was 19, but the idea that you could work on cryptocurrencies for 1/3 of your life is incredible to me.

What was the first programming language that you learned?

Buterin

I remember when I was very young,

I would play around with Excel spreadsheets, which is kind of a programming language.

Then when I was a bit older, I would do Logo and C++.

The main thing I would program is programming video games that I would then play myself until I got bored, then I would program more.

Barhydt

Right, cool, very cool.

So let’s talk about Bitcoin and the segue to Ethereum.

What attracted you to Bitcoin in the first place?

Buterin

It just seemed like something that gathered together all of the interests that I already have at the same time in one package.

There was the math and computer science, the programming, the cryptography.

The community back then was very interested in talking about different political and social ideas,

and libertarianism was very strong, but then there were socialist and mutualist whatevers, and all of these different fun little tribes.

There was even the sort of politics and society section of the Bitcoin talk forum where people would just debate these ideas with each other.

Barhydt

Absolutely.

Buterin

So Bitcoin kind of had that, it had this kind of…Community with different ideas, and a technology that actually could actually have a big impact on the world.

It had the open-source software aspects to it, it had very interesting cryptography.

It seemed like almost a perfect storm for myself to get interested in.

Barhydt

Fantastic, and you had this idea that Bitcoin needed more of a Turing complete scripting component to it and that led to the idea for Ethereum?

Is that a fair statement?

Buterin

So what actually happened was that back in maybe October 2013, I spent some time working on projects like colored coins and Mastercoin, so these were the existing layer twos that were trying to kind of extend Bitcoin with more advanced functionality, and at one point I realized that, hey, you could replace these five features with one other feature by just basically having a programming language instead of these five specific different transaction types. And it kind of came over time.

The first thing I did was I made a proposal to Mastercoin that would replace basically five of the transaction types they have with a programming language designed to express financial contracts between two parties. So you could do binary options, contracts for different bets—

Barhydt

Sure.

Buterin

Pretty much anything in that category with one single type of thing.

Barhydt

Let’s take a step back for a second.

What was the attraction to you for this idea of having contracts, executable contracts at all, inside of a cryptocurrency-based model?

Buterin

Initially, for me, it was like, hey, they’re doing this thing, they’re trying to make it possible to do more stuff, that seems cool, but I know how to do more, how to make it possible to do more stuff with a protocol which is ten times simpler, which is instead of basically having a Swiss Army knife with 100 different types of features, you would just have a programming language, so then you could kind of build whatever you want on top.

Barhydt

Did you have a vision where you said, oh my god, the world needs this type of contract?

Or was it more for you a holistic problem?

Buterin

It kind of came over time, I started with these two-party financial contracts, then I kind of kept on mulling the idea over, and at one point I sent it to the Mastercoin people, and they said, yeah, that sounds cool, but maybe we’ll get to it in a year on our own map.

And I was like, wait, a year? But don’t you see this is literally the most important thing out there?

I basically just decided to start working on it myself.

So free of the constraints of having to iterate an existing system, I kept on thinking,

and eventually, it took me a couple of weeks to figure out how to expand the model from

just two-party contracts o these computer programs that talk to each other and can do pretty much whatever they want, but once I made that one kind of leap, suddenly everything made sense, that you could just do everything with contracts.

Barhydt

Yep, yep, okay so now let’s talk about that.

So we have a lot of non-technical users of the Abra app, people who are watching this who hold Ethereum, but don’t really understand the deep difference between ether and bitcoin.

So can you explain in kind of non-technical terms to the layman, what is the difference between bitcoin and ether?

Buterin

Sure, so Bitcoin is kind of a special purpose blockchain.

It’s good at basically the one thing that it does, which is storing and processing the transfer of Bitcoin balances.

Ethereum is a much more general purpose platform, so Ethereum contains a built-in cryptocurrency called ETH which you can use as a currency, but then it also has these smart contracts which you can use to implement a much broader variety of other kinds of blockchain applications, which could include financial contracts, it could include decentralized domain name systems, it could include identity systems or reputation and so forth, and then there’s this big long list of blockchain stuff that people get excited about, and basically any of it is doable on Ethereum.

Barhydt

And how much of that, of what you just said, was the original vision, versus how much of that

has kind of evolved over the last five years?

Buterin

I would say a lot…When I figured out how to move from just two-party contracts to this broader model of contracts that can do anything, it became very clear that this was a much more general tool than we realized we could do.

And at that point, other people in the community started coming up with more and more applications, like there was some people thinking up decentralized file storage, there were…

People thinking up different ways that they could make their own tokens.

I came up with some ideas around how to do things like decentralized oracles and so forth, and other people took those ideas and started running with them.

Part of that is where Augur came from for example.

Barhydt

Right, a prediction market.

Buterin

Yeah, well prediction markets are this other idea that just totally came from the outside, but the platform is general purpose, so even though I’ve never heard of prediction markets when the platform was designed for the first time, you could still do them.

Barhydt

That’s super cool.

So what’s…I wanna talk about some of the applications that you were alluding to in just a second, but what’s the craziest application of Ethereum that you’ve come across lately?

Like, I can’t even believe that somebody came up with this. Is there something that comes to mind?

Buterin

I am definitely impressed by MakerDAO.

What MakerDAO basically is, is it’s a smart contract system that issues a currency which is pegged in value to the dollar, but it’s not dependent at all on any outside banking systems or anything like that.

Basically, there is an even larger pool of ETH that the contract maintains, and the contract basically maintains this kind of peg where…It has this data feed that feeds in the price of ETH to U.S. dollars from the outside, and depending on what that price is, that’s the amount of ETH that you can recover from one DAI.

What that basically means is that you get this cryptocurrency which is a sort of pure cryptocurrency in the sense that it doesn’t depend on centralized infrastructure, but it has a stable value.

Theoretically, you could extend this kind of model to not just U.S. dollars, like you could have exposure to arbitrary assets, you could have exposure to CPIs, you could have exposure to real estate indices.

But the interesting thing about it, the idea is something we knew about for a couple of years, but they actually did it, and it actually works, and it’s worked for almost a year.

It’s gonna be a year in maybe even a week or so.

The price has just actually stayed at a dollar all the way through.

Barhydt

That’s awesome, and actually there are a lot of similarities between what MakerDAO is doing and the Abra platform using Bitcoin, because we basically use multi-sig Bitcoin contracts to create our stable assets, the dollar, even the ETH up until now,was this stable asset model using Bitcoin, although now it’s a native ether wallet of course.

So let’s talk about some of those applications.

Obviously, this has been a crazy year from kind of a venture capital, ICO perspective, right?

So I’m curious, what is your perspective on what’s happened in the past year in this crazy ERC-20 market, and is it…Is that a viable, interesting application of Ethereum going forward, or do you think that that’s kind of going to die?

Buterin

I think there’s definitely going to be even more ERC-20s to keep on getting issued in the future. I do think that the age of multi-hundred-million-dollar ICOs has passed, at least for quite some time, and honestly, I’m very relieved about that.

There’s definitely a lot of different use cases for issuing tokens, like one, you could use them to represent assets, so if things like these different stablecoin projects, you could use them for assets inside of video games, you could use ERC-721s, Non-Fungible Tokens, to represent digital collectibles, you could use ERC-20s to represent tokens which have value insideof some applications.

I do think that the AppCoin thing has been over-hyped and over-used, but there definitely are some areas where I think it’s totally legit.

Barhydt

So we’ll come back to the 721, the collectible model in a second, I think that’s a really interesting topic as well.

On the ERC-20 topic, what do you think about just traditional securities enabled via the ERC-20 model, not just issuing new tokens to fund a company, but taking existing stocks, and making them available via ERC-20, is that something that you foresee happening en masse in the future?

Buterin

Yeah, I think that’s a totally cool idea.

Barhydt

Are there startups that you’re aware of that are actually trying to do that now?

Buterin

For stocks, I don’t know.

The challenge is that you want these stocks to be issued natively, like you actually want the record on the Ethereum blockchain to be the authoritative thing that tells the court who actually has the legal rights, and that involves legal engineering more than anything else.

I know there was this company based in Singapore called Autonomous that was trying to do company share management on Ethereum, and part of the long-term vision for that would be that you could just have stocks that get traded on the blockchain, but then that particular company shut down.

Barhydt

When you think about mainstream adoption of decentralized applications or any application that takes advantage of Ethereum, what do you think it’s gonna take for true mainstream adoption by the average consumer, or institutional investor, are they going to know that they’re using Ethereum?

Is it gonna be relegated to the background?

And how much of that is dependent upon your development platform community, versus the actual app developers?

Buterin

I would say in some cases yes, in some cases no. There are definitely ways that applications can benefit from Ethereum without exposing the user to any blockchain bits, but then there are also other benefits that you really can only get by making the blockchain parts closer to the user side.

As far as the big problems, my top three at this point are probably scalability, privacy, and usability. So scalability, Ethereum blockchain right now can process 15 transactions a second, really we need like 100,000.

Barhydt

Yeah.

Buterin

Privacy, every single thing you do right now is totally public to everyone, and that doesn’t do

for a whole bunch of use cases, so this is part of why we’re working on some fancy cryptographic technology, like zkSNARKs, to try to solve that.

Usability is a super big challenge.

A lot of blockchain applications are just very poor on the usability side, they have a lot of hiccups, and like, oh why’d this suddenly just totally not work, why did this take 10 minutes longer than I expected. The other big challenge that I care about is usability of security, so coming up with easy-to-use ways for people to store their private keys that don’t become vulnerable to someone losing everything because they either lost their private key, or their private key got stolen.

And there are some interesting solutions that are coming out to that, but it’ll still take a couple of years for all of these different strands to get somewhere.

Barhydt

Yeah, we struggle with the last one a lot.

We force our users to actually write down their back-up phrase to recreate the wallets.

And we have obviously near 100 percent compliance with that because we don’t give the user a choice, but it is not a fun, friendly process for our users.

So let’s kinda work backwards on what you were talking about earlier.

Actually let’s start from the top, so you mentioned scalability, that it’s gonna take probably 100,000 transactions a second at some point to really make Ethereum useful.

Where are we now in terms of getting from 15 transactions a second to 100,000 transactions a second in the Ethereum network?

Buterin

There’s kind of two major kinds of strategies that we’re working on for scalability.

One is layer one scaling, and the other is layer two scaling. So layer one scaling basically means improving the blockchain protocol itself to allow it to process a much larger set of transactions.

And the main bottleneck with blockchains right now is basically every user has to download the whole blockchain which basically means the blockchain can’t hold more transactions than one guy’s computer can store.

Our solution to this, called sharding, basically means that you split up the different transactions to randomly selected different groups of computers.

This basically means that the blockchain can process way more things than one single computer can hold.

That could increase scalability by maybe a factor of 1,000 or so, but potentially even more much later down the road.

The other kind of scaling that we are working on is Layer two scaling, which basically means designing applications in such a way that not everything that happens actually goes on the blockchain.

So basically instead of going to the blockchain every single time any user does anything, you perform most of your operations off-chain, using just cryptographically signed messages, and you only need to put data onto the chain when there actually is some kind of dispute.

So there are two major classes of systems that we’re working on in this regard.

One is called estate channels, and there’s a bunch of teams working on this. There’s a team called L4 in Toronto that’s done some really good work.

And another project is Plasma. And there’s a lot of work that’s been done on that, OmiseGO is this decentralized exchange that’s building on Plasma. There’s more and more of these projects, and there’s…

One of our researchers, Karl Floersch, has been working on an implementation of a reasonably complete Plasma Prime specification, which is the latest version of Plasma which has some really cool features in terms of increasing scalability and reducing the amount of data you have to store.

Barhydt

So a question on the on-chain scaling. So the Bitcoin Core world, for example, beyond SegWit, has really relegated scaling to layer two, which means off-chain scaling.

You obviously have a very different approach for Ethereum. Do you think that the approach that the Bitcoin Core community is taking makes sense for Bitcoin?

Or should they have the same perspective as the Ethereum project, in your opinion?

Buterin

If Bitcoin wishes to just be a store of value, then realistically it’s probably fine, though I think they should switch to proof of stake.

If they want to actually be a currency that people use for transactions, then I do think base what you’re scaling and also kind of speeding up the blockchain, reducing block times at the base layer, is also something which is very important.

There are serious limits to what you can do at layer two. There are limits to the usability of layer two, and there’s a tax on layer two, and also the other thing to keep in mind is that the scalability of gains from layer one enhancements and using layer two are multiplicative, so if layer one can be made to be 1,000 times more scalable, that’s also 1,000 times increase in the amount of transactions per second that you can push to a layer two thing safely.

Barhydt

But I also think that there are legal implications with layer two, because you get into money service business, and e-money regulation there, that I think a lot of the developers who don’t come from the legal world don’t fully understand.

Buterin

Yeah, absolutely.

One of the benefits of layer one things, in general, is that they literally do not depend on operators, they don’t depend on infrastructure, they just work directly on-chain.

And that basically, first of all, reduces legal risk for a lot of people, because you just need much fewer entities, and possibly no entities that even can be classified as operators.

Also, even in the absence of legal issues, it makes the whole thing more robust, because you don’t have to wait for these operators to start existing, to count on them to exist, to count on them to not coalesce into one single one because of network effects, and then charge monopolistic transaction fees, and all of these issues.

Barhydt

So let’s segue now into the privacy issues you mentioned.

How do you personally think about privacy requirements for smart contracts and the Ethereum model, and are there legal implications of your perspective that need to be taken into account, or is it all about doing the right thing for the protocol, and the legal stuff will work itself out over time?

Buterin

So first of all, I think it’s important to keep in mind that in the Ethereum context, Ethereum is a general purpose Turing complete blockchain, and so what that means is that any of these privacy-preserving protocols just can’t be done at layer two.

So we as designers of layer one don’t technically even need to do anything for it to make it possible for these layer two zero-knowledge payment protocols to actually work.

In some sense, what that means is that as long as there are people who care about privacy anywhere in the ecosystem and keep pushing it forward, it will happen.

And it also means that at layer one, we don’t really need to make choices of, do we like ring signatures, or zero-knowledge proofs, or confidential transactions, or Rabin signatures, or whatever fancy cryptographic buzzword of the week.

Barhydt

Sure.

Buterin

And we can just have a programming language, and other people can experiment with all of the designs.

From a legal point of view, I know there definitely are regulators in different places that are more concerned about the kind of zero-knowledge coins than about tokens where all of the transfers are put onto the blockchain in plain text.

It is something that… The kind of possibility of these technologies is something that just is going to happen over the next couple of years, and I do expect that for some classes of tokens, especially the classes of tokens that are closer to having more dependence on kind of traditional institutions, so this would be security tokens, like asset-backed stablecoins and so forth.

Regulators may end up demanding that they set up their privacy in some way that allows the regulators to see different parts of transactions, and that’s also something that’s kind of inevitable.

Barhydt

But this idea that… In the Bitcoin world this is a problem as well, right?

We talk about the fungibility of a token, meaning that if I have unspent output for Bitcoin, or for ETH, that basically traces back six steps to a public address that belonged to a drug dealer that was arrested, that somehow I am culpable in those transactions, because I’m still using that token.

Which by the way, is a problem with paper money, because if you look at the average paper money, it’s got traces of all kinds of drugs on it.

It’s actually disgusting, right?

So is it the protocol developers, or is it the Ethereum Project’s responsibility to deal with that fungibility issue, so that becomes a non-issue?

Buterin

I feel like our design philosophy for the Ethereum protocol is layer one must be strong, but layer two is ultimately the more innovative, and so we don’t need to explicitly make all ether transfers privacy-preserving or whatever at layer one, and that honestly can’t even work, because Ethereum contracts need to use ETH, and Ethereum contracts can’t even hold secret keys, so there’s no way to make that kind of privacy-preserving and what does that even mean?

So the thing that you can do of course is all of this different layer two innovation.

If…I know in general, like in common law, there is this kind of legal principle that fungibility of currency is sort of enshrined into law, because for normal assets, like for example there’s this nemo dat quod non habet principle, which is basically if you steal a bike, and then you sell me a bike, and then I give the bike to Carl, then the original owner can totally just go to Carl and say hey, that’s still my bike, give it back to me, even though Carl himself technically did nothing wrong.

But with currency, that’s kind of explicitly overwritten in the law, so it’s explicitly designed to treat every $10-bill as being identical to every other $10-bill.

In the case of cryptocurrency… I don’t think there has been a very specific case about this, but I know they are classifying it as property, which does mean there’s some risk that they’ll try to treat specific tokens differently depending on where they seem to come from.

Privacy preservation is definitely one way to make it less feasible to do things like that, which I think is definitely a gain for the usability of the platform as a whole.

Barhydt

So that’s an interesting segue into this idea of governance, right?

I mean last year, we went through this whole SegWit2x debate in the Bitcoin world, and obviously, you guys went through the proof of stake and Plasma debates as well in the Ethereum world, how do you think about governance?

First of all, what does the word governance mean to you, and how do you think it should apply to a decentralized protocol like Ethereum?

Buterin

So blockchains are interesting, because they are this fundamentally new class of thing, whether an organism, meme, whatever word you wanna use, they’re kind of like corporations, but also not quite like corporations.

They’re kind of like countries, they’re also not quite like countries.

They’re kind of like open-source projects, but not quite like them.

They’re kind of like religions, but not quite like them.

They combine elements of all these things, and add some new ideas and elements of their own.

The kind of properties that matter I think with blockchains are that they have this property of open-source software that ultimately the value of the thing is entirely what people assign to it.

At the end of the day, if you want, you can fork.

But compared to open-source software, I think there are also stronger disincentives against forking, and if forking is infinitely difficult, then you get back to the governance of things like corporations, right?

I think blockchains are sort of in the middle between those two.

I view governance as a coordination process.

So the idea is basically that all of the users in a blockchain ecosystem are playing this game where they keep on deciding every day basically what software they’re running.

So am I running Geth, am I running Parity, am I running Bitcoin ABC, am I running Bitcoin SV, something else, and… The one property that this game has is that you benefit from making the same move as many other people are making.

If I run a version of the Ethereum client that issues an extra 20 million units of ether to me, it might seem like a benefit ’cause I get 20 million ether, but I lose because really nobody else values that ether, and I am just going to get forked off of everyone else’s chain.

Because governance is this game where everyone benefits from making moves in concert, there’s a huge number of different equilibria that can arise inside of this game.

You could have the equilibrium where everyone runs the same software forever, you could have the equilibrium where everyone runs the software that I tell them to run, and I say something on Twitter that points to a new version, and that’s the version everyone downloads, you could imagine an equilibrium where there’s some group of core developers, you could imagine miners having a hash-war to vote.

Each of these equilibria are sticky, right?

Once the system falls into one of these equilibria, you will have the expectation that it is this way, then every single individual has an incentive to act in that way, because they benefit from being in the same universe as everyone else.

Barhydt

So ideally, I guess what you’re saying to some degree is you’re aligning incentives if you do governance correctly in the Ethereum world?

Buterin

Basically, governance is this… It is the question of what specific equilibrium should we be in right now, and within one of these equilibria, if you want to cause some change to happen, or prevent some change from happening, then how do you do that?

Barhydt

So let’s talk about governance and decentralization.

So to me, the litmus test to have a decentralized protocol on the internet is probably two things in my mind.

Maybe you agree or disagree.

One is, is there a central off-switch?

And two, can I stop the developers from actually contributing to this decentralized thing that has no central off-switch?

So I think about BitTorrent as the first project that passed the litmus test for me, where you couldn’t really stop either.

The governments tried, right?

Do you think that we’ve achieved that with Bitcoin and Ethereum, where there’s no central off-switch that would allow you to really shut it off, and that you couldn’t really stop the developers from contributing if governments didn’t like what they were doing?

Buterin

Yeah, actually I’m not worried about the blockchain being shut off from a development side, because first of all, there are lots of people running nodes, and even if the developers all go poof in a puff of smoke, then people can just keep running the same client version forever.

Barhydt

Sure, but with the bugs that they had before.

Buterin

Yes, and then if bugs come up, there could be new developers that would pop in, and it would take longer to fix, but it would still get fixed.

Second, in Ethereum we’ve taken really great care to ensure that there are multiple implementations of the protocol that people actively use, so in Ethereum 1.0, we have Geth, the go version, and Parity, which is this independently developed version in Rust.

And there are others, but people use them less, but people could start using them more.

For Serenity, so this is the upgrade that adds in proof of stake and sharding, that’s gone up to something like eight implementations, and there’s eight different companies that are working on implementations, one in Python, one in Rust, one or two in Java, and a couple of others, one in Nim.

That basically means that even if one development team goes down, the others can keep going.

I think shutting down is not the only risk you need to be worried about.

The other risk you need to be worried about is capture.

Barhydt

Define capture.

Buterin

So basically, can a small group of actors gain enough power inside the decision-making process to ensure that things go their way? And especially if their way might not be aligned with the way that the community of the blockchain actually wants.

Barhydt

Or a simple attack or something similar.

Buterin

Well, the exact kind of attack depends on what your exact mechanism is.

So for example, if you have a community where the religion is that 51% hash power decides, then you can just totally break and capture it by getting 51% of the hash power.

If you have something where some small group of developers decide, then you can… Either be one of those developers, and kind of get a cabal together, or even just create an ideological orthodoxy that this is the way to do things, or you could try to join this group over time, you could even try to hire them as a company, or you could try to influence them in a bunch of ways.

Barhydt

But a 51% attack, at least to the usefulness of a network for Abra, is almost the same thing as having an off-switch, because at that point, the network is no longer useful.

Buterin

There are different kinds of 51% attacks. So for example, you can do a 51% attack that just makes the blockchain break, but I can also do a 51% attack that censors all transactions, except for those transactions where the transaction fee is at least $100.

And if I do the second one, then that’s something that makes the blockchain still kind of useful, and maybe people will just keep on paying the $100, and it’ll be super profitable for me.

Barhydt

Right, fascinating.

So are you convinced that we’ve reached the point where either a 51% attack, or just some kind of government collusion to shut off the networks is just no longer possible? Specifically for Ethereum.

Buterin

I think if governments collude to try to bring the network down, they could probably do it, and developers would have to actively fight back and keep trying to make different network protocols and so forth, and that’s something that would just kind of keep on happening.

I mean, fight off government attacks without active developers, I think realistically we’re totally not there yet, and that’ll probably take much longer.

Barhydt

Right, right, right.

Probably another podcast or video session, fascinating topic, I love that topic.

I think that the libertarian in me wants a fully decentralized network, but I also realize that we’re getting there in very logical steps that also have to safeguard the value of what people are using the network for in the first place along the way.

So this has been kind of a heavy conversation, maybe we can close it out by lightening it up a bit.

So I’m curious, do you have hobbies outside of Ethereum?

Do you read a lot?

Buterin

Yeah, I definitely do read.

I try reading books during those times when I’m either traveling or someplace where I can’t be productive on something else.

Barhydt

What do you enjoy reading?

Buterin

Right now I’m going through Jane Jacobs’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

Barhydt

Yeah, so you just like to stay with the heavy stuff, huh?

Buterin

Yeah, I guess.

I definitely try mixing my entertainment with learning or keeping up my German, or weird things like that.

The lighter thing I do is probably going on walks.

Barhydt

You’re a hiker?

Buterin

Yeah.

Barhydt

Right on.

Well, we’ll have to pick up this conversation over a hike.

I spend a lot of time in the mountains, so I’d enjoy that.

So look, this has been awesome.

I could talk to you literally all day about this stuff.

But I think we’ll stop there.

This has been like I said, fantastic.

Thank you so much for the time, and for everything that you do for the community, and obviously, you’re representative of a lot of awesome developers, and we are very grateful to the entire Ethereum development community for everything they do.

We’re really excited about going deep within not only supporting ETH, but the Ethereum platform at Abra.

We didn’t really get to dig in too much on the CFD swap model, we should do another conversation with that, I think we could probably spend an hour just talking about financial products, which I think for a core part of our audience would be interesting.

So thanks everyone for joining us this episode of Crypto Bites, this was super fun.

Check out the new Ethereum support in Abra, you can literally transfer your ETH to the Abra app, use it to invest in other currencies, buy other currencies, and store your ETH.

We’ll talk to you soon.

Take care, everyone.

 

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