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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Crypto Bites: Chat with Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin

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(upbeat chime music)

- 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 ether 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?

- Mm-hmm.

- 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?

- 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.

- Yeah, we'll come back to that.

- Together with sharding, which is this very large,

maybe 1,000 (mumbles) 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.

- [Bill] Yeah, are you having fun?

- Yeah, yeah, this year has been great.

- 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.

- Sure, so I was born in Russia in 1994,

six years (mumbles) moved to Canada.

11 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 application--

- I remember, yeah.

- 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.

- 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?

- Yeah 24, but eight divided by 24 is 1/3,

it's not quite 1/2.

- Wow, but even that is incredible, right?

- I guess.

- 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 your first programming language that you learned?

- I remember when I was very young,

I would play around with Excel spreadsheets,

which is kind of a programming language.

- [Bill] Right, right.

- 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.

- Right, cool, very cool.

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

What attracted you to Bitcoin in the first place?

- 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.

- Absolutely.

- 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.

- 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?

- 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 2s

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--

- Sure.

- Pretty much anything in that category

with one single type of thing.

- 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?

- 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.

- 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?

- 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

to 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.

- 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?

- 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.

- 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?

- 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

a decentralized file storage, there were...

People thinking up of 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.

- [Bill] Right, prediction market.

- 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

- [Bill] 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?

- Huh...

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,

so there's...

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.

- That's awesome, and actually there's 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?

- 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 inside of 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.

- 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?

- Yeah, I think that's a totally cool idea.

- Are there startups that you're aware of

that are actually trying to do that now?

- 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.

- 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 gonna 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?

- I would say in some cases yes, in some cases no.

There's 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.

- [Bill] Yeah.

- 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.

- 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% 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?

- There's kind of two major kinds of strategies

that we're working on for scalability.

One is Layer 1 scaling, and the other is Layer 2 scaling.

So Layer 1 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 2 scaling, which basically means

designing applications in such a way

that not every thing 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's 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 (mumbles) 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 the matter dot net, 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.

- So a question on the on-chain scaling.

So the Bitcoin Core world, for example, beyond SegWit,

has really relegated scaling to Layer 2,

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?

- 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 2.

There's limits to usability of Layer 2,

and there's a tax on Layer 2,

and also the other thing to keep in mind

is that the scalability of gains from Layer 1 enhancements

and using Layer 2 are multiplicative,

so if Layer 1 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 2 thing safely.

- But I also think that there are legal implications

with Layer 2, 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.

- Yeah, absolutely.

One of the benefits of Layer 1 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.

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

How do you think...

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?

- 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 2.

So we as designers of Layer 1 don't technically even need

to do anything for it to make it possible

for these Layer 2 zero-knowledge payment protocols

to actually work.

In some sense, what that means is that

as long as there's people who care about privacy

anywhere in the ecosystem and keep pushing it forward,

it will happen.

And it also means that at Layer 1,

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.

- Sure.

- 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.

- But this idea that...

In the Bitcoin world this is a problem as well, right?

We talk about 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?

- I feel like our design philosophy

for the Ethereum protocol is Layer 1 must be strong,

but Layer 2 is ultimately the more innovative,

and so we don't need to explicitly make

all ether transfers privacy-preserving or whatever

at Layer 1, 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 2 innovation.


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.

- 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 decentralized protocol like Ethereum?

- 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 equilibrium,

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.

- 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?

- 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 to happening,

then how do you do that?

- 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?

- Yeah, actually I'm not worried about the blockchain

being shut off from a development side,

because first of all, there's 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.

- [Bill] Sure, but with the bugs that they had before.

- 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.

- Define capture.

- 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.

- [Bill] Or a simple attack or something similar.

- 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.

- 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.

- There's 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.

- [Bill] 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.

- 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.

- [Bill] 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?

- 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.

- [Bill] What do you enjoy reading?

- Right now I'm going through Jane Jacobs's

The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

- [Bill] Yeah, so you just like to stay

with the heavy stuff, huh?

- 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.

- You're a hiker?

- Yeah.

- 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 e-support in Abra,

you can literally transfer your ETH to the Abra app,

use it to invest in other currencies,

buy other currencies, store your ETH,

and have a great holiday, and we'll talk to you soon.

Take care, everyone.

(upbeat chime music)

The Description of Crypto Bites: Chat with Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin