Vitalik Buterin on the values that went into designing Ethereum
With Ethereum 2.0 expected to ship in the near future, the values that underlie the world’s second-largest blockchain have become increasingly important. Vitalik Buterin, one of the creators of Ethereum, discussed both the abstract and the technical aspects of the values that went into designing Ethereum over six years ago and how they are going to shape the network’s upcoming iteration.
The political values that shaped Ethereum 2.0
Those not familiar with the depths of the crypto industry might not be aware of what goes behind the scenes of the industry’s biggest projects. Ethereum, as the foundation of the DeFi sector and the second-largest network in terms of market cap, tends to reveal unexpected depths when its surface is scratched.
Aside from being based on a very serious mathematical and cryptographical foundation, the network is also supported by a strong pillar of philosophical ideas and values—some of which managed to translate very well into other projects built upon Ethereum.
Vitalik Buterin, one of the creators of Ethereum, took a look back at the values that shaped the design of Ethereum over six years ago and their effect on the network’s upcoming iteration. Buterin spoke on the Bankless podcast earlier this week, giving a mix of highly technical and very abstract answers to some of the most prevailing questions regarding Ethereum.
One of the biggest questions regarding Ethereum was checked off the list at the very beginning of the interview. Buterin addressed the increased skepticism a part of the community had regarding the launch of Ethereum 2.0, saying that it is “going to be shipped as advertised.” Phase 0 of the launch will come by the end of the year, offering almost every functionality of Ethereum 2.0 aside from sharding, he explained, adding that the following phase, phase 1, will ship much sooner than people think.
Building Ethereum 2.0 from the ground up wasn’t an easy task. Buterin discussed, in length, the political values that went into designing Ethereum 2.0 and how they will affect the final functionality and design of the product.
“Proof-of-stake is a philosophically complex thing that binds multiple objectives,” he said.
The first and most important one of these objectives is combating the incredible amounts of waste and inefficiencies seen in the proof-of-work model that Bitcoin pioneered. By moving away from proof-of-work and transitioning into a proof-of-stake model, the network will also be able to address the growing concern of centralization.
Proof-of-stake, Buterin explained, tries to be “maximally democratic” and open for participation. He believes that Ethereum should be seen as a publicly accessible global architecture that people can easily interact with without any intermediaries and with a low barrier of entry. Proof-of-stake, he went on, encourages this culture of participation.
Choosing decentralization is the best long-term solution for blockchain technology
While proof-of-stake might seem like an obvious solution for Ethereum now, choosing a decentralized model when working with a blank slate isn’t always an easy decision. When asked why a decentralized model was chosen for Ethereum back in 2014 when the idea about a programmable blockchain first occurred to Buterin, he said that it wasn’t an easy decision.
Taking a more centralized approach towards building a network is bound to yield great results in the short-term, he said. However, it tends to end up “really biting you in the long-term.” One of the best examples of a road to hell paved with good intentions is Steem, whose highly centralized model led to a huge crisis after the project got acquired by Tron. A crisis which, despite the community’s best effort, led to a chaotic fork and complete devaluation of Steem’s native asset. Buterin also mentioned EOS as an example of a project’s centralized model turning out to be a bad decision in the long-term, saying that the small number of delegates on the network lead to bribing attacks.
In the long-term, he said, users will always value permisionlessness and decentralization, which is why Ethereum chose the road less traveled.
However, Buterin was clear that there were other projects that wholeheartedly embraced these values as well. He noted that a lot of smaller chains in the Bitcoin Core expanded universe are currently trying to implement these values to various extents. Ethereum Classic, Ethereum’s first fork, is also a chain that values these ideas, Buterin admitted but added that it was taking a more purist approach than Ethereum was.
The issue of chain relativism
The relatively high number of projects aiming for the amount of decentralization Ethereum 2.0 is isn’t a totally positive development for the market. Buterin believes that the number of projects going in this direction is much larger than the number of projects the market can realistically support. This means that while many chains will most likely fail, the ones that do survive will certainly impact the market for many years.
But, the values propagated by Ethereum 2.0 aren’t reserved only for future projects. Buterin noted that the streamlined vision of decentralization has already managed to translate very well to various projects, with the best example of this being Uniswap.
Uniswap, according to Buterin, is a very value-driven project that succeeded in building a simple and easy to use decentralized exchange at a time when most other similar projects were going for complexity. With a minimal interface and a lack of things considered by many to be crucial for exchanges, such as order books, Uniswap continues to cement the things Ethereum holds as the most important—availability, simplicity, and decentralization.
However, the number of projects embracing the core values of Ethereum and Ethereum 2.0 doesn’t mean that they will be the ones that prevail on the market. Asked about chain relativism and whether all chains should be seen as equal, Buterin noted that the risk didn’t come from having many projects sharing the same values, but having projects that have none. Having chains that market the idea that core values behind a blockchain aren’t important is something that could have serious consequences on the market and should be something users focus on.