Journalist. Publisher, Scholar. Digital currency creator. These are some of the many labels that can be applied to Ethereum’s designer and lead researcher, Vitalik Buterin. A multifaceted individual, he has been involved in the crypto community for nearly seven years, and has remained one of its most influential figures. But what drives Buterin’s momentum, that allows him to achieve so much? The answer lies in seemingly every day interactions.
Buterin History, pre-Ethereum
Vitalik Buterin was born in Russia in 1994 to computer scientist Dmitry Buterin and Natalia Ameline. He was raised in Kolomna, Moscow Oblast, until he emigrated to Toronto Canada with his family. Placed into a gifted class in the third grade, he shined in a number of subjects including math, programming, and economics; in one story, he is said to have added three digit numbers in his head twice as fast as the average1.
Vitalik Buterin, Image from InvestinBlockchain.
In a life defining moment, Buterin remembers playing World of Warcraft in the year 2010. One day, Blizzard made the decision to remove the damage component of “… [his] beloved warlock’s Siphon Life spell.” Crushed, he “cried [himself] to sleep,” and “realized what horrors centralized services can bring.”
In another fascinating story, he recalls drawing inspiration from the strategy discussion at a robotics competition, stating that “… [he] gave each agent a utility function and let them independently act to maximize their own objectives.” That moment dictated his political thought. Buterin’s childhood experiences influenced his political and technological beliefs significantly for years to come.
This event coincided with his discovery of the crypto currency Bitcoin, in 2011. Co-founding the famous Bitcoin Magazine in the same year, he immersed himself in the cryptocurrency world and wrote hundreds of articles on the subject2. Bitcoin Magazine in 2012 later began a print edition, referred to as one of the first serious publications dedicated to cryptocurrencies3. Additionally, he coded for the privacy-driven Dark Wallet, marketplace Egora, and Kryptokit4.
In 2012, Buterin entered the University of Waterloo. By 2013, he had grown disenchanted with school, recalling that “…crypto projects were taking up [to 30 hours per week] of my time, so I dropped out.5” He went on to travel the world, investigate crypto projects, and made a stunning revelation about the nature of cryptocurrencies. This led to the birth of Ethereum, to which he has devoted the entirety of his life.
In the same year, he released the white paper outlining Ethereum, his alternative platform, designed for any type of decentralized application developers would want to build. In layman’s terms, Ethereum makes it “easy to create smart contracts, self-enforcing code that developers can tap for a range of applications.6” For his efforts, he was named a 2014 Thiel fellow, an award that came with a $100,000 purse over the next two years to be used toward current and future projects7.
By this point in time, Buterin had build an impressive enough resume that he had become a respected member of the bitcoin conference scene. In January of 2014, he unveiled Ethereum to the world at the North American Bitcoin Conference in Miami8. At the time, the core Ethereum team consisted of him, Mihai Alisie, Anthony Di lorio, and Charles Hoskinson9. Through the Swiss company Ethereum Switzerland GmbH and the Swiss non-profit, the Ethereum Foundation, Ethereum was developed into the cryptocurrency we know today.
The cryptocurrency of the Ethereum blockchain is called an Ether; it is listed under the code ETH and traded on various cryptocurrency exchanges. It is represented by the Greek uppercase Xi character (Ξ) is employed as its currency symbol. Much like its inspiration, Bitcoin, Ethereum is a distributed public blockchain network10. Ether gained from the mining of the central blockchain network is tradable as a cryptocurrency, and is used to pay for transaction fees and services on the Ethereum network.
Vitalik Explains Ethereum at Disrupt SF, Image from TechCrunch.
Most importantly, the blockchain focuses on running the programming code of any decentralized application. While Bitcoin is limited to currency use case, Ethereum “replaces bitcoin’s more restrictive language … and replaces it with a language that allows developers to write their own programs.11”
Ethereum allows developers to create their own smart contracts using the Solidity programming language. The smart contracts on the Ethereum distribution network can have multiple utilities, including:
- Functioning as ‘multi-signature’ accounts, so that funds are only spent when a required percentage of participants agree
- To many agreements between users
- To provide utility to other contracts
- To store information about an application.12
Solidity Code Example.
Smart contracts come with limitations; after all, they are only as good as the people who write them. Oversights can lead to unintentional actions being taken. However, with the proper foresight, these effects can be nullified.
Buterin also designed Ethereum to be used to build Decentralized Autonomous Organizations, or DAOs. DAOs are fully autonomous, decentralized organization with no leader13. DAOs are run by a number of smart contracts written together on the Ethereum blockchain.
When all is said and done, there are a number of benefits of running the Ethereum decentralized Platform. The first is Immutability: a third party cannot make any changes to the data. Second, is its resilience to corruption: apps are based on the principle of consensus, making censorship impossible. Third, its security: with no central point of failure, applications are well protected against hacking attacks and fraudulent activities. Fourth, there is zero downtime: apps never go down and can never be switched off.
Influence and Death Hoax
Today, Vitalik Buterin bears an incredible amount of responsibility on his shoulders. His opinion and standing are enough to influence entire markets. For example, a June 2017 hoax started by members of the forum 4chan circulated around the internet, stating that the Ethereum founder had been killed in a car crash14. The news appeared on a /biz/ thread at 4:30 PM EST, citing another post on a slack channel.
Although the post provided no link or evidence, the news spread like wildfire. Sensationalist sites began picking up the story – despite any accurate details or pictures regarding the incident – and Wikipedia was edited to the past tense. Vitalik himself appeared on Twitter at 8:01 PM EST to quell rumors of his early demise.
Another day, another blockchain use case. pic.twitter.com/OyHzdhEeGR
— Vitalik Buterin (@VitalikButerin) June 26, 2017
But in the three and a half hours that Buterin was rumored to have passed away, Ethereum’s price crashed from $300 to $260 USD. Vitalik Buterin is so important to the crypto community, that his health literally has the power to sway markets.
The most astonishing aspect of Vitalik Buterin’s profile is his age: he is only 23 years old. Named to both the Forbes 30 under 30 and Fortune 40 under 40 lists, Buterin’s best years are ahead of him.
For now, Buterin has shared his vision for Ethereum in 2018. At a conference in Taipei, Buterin identified four key areas where he sees the need for improvement. These areas – privacy, consensus safety, smart contract safety, and scalability – will surely be addressed in the following year.
Ultimately, time will only tell what the crypto-genius is capable of accomplishing in the future.