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Op-ed: Vitalik Buterin – Blockchain’s Person of the Year

Andrew Quentson on 30/12/2016


Since Nakamoto, no one has advanced this space more than Vitalik Buterin, the 22-year-old child-prodigy who in 2013 began thinking of extending blockchain’s capabilities beyond just money, launched his vision in 2015 and saw it explode this year with ETH increasing by more than 700%.


More than just a new currency, Vitalik has created a new technology – an ethereum virtual machine that executes smart contracts. In the process, he has transformed money into truly digital code which anyone with some knowledge can program and order around.


As such, ethereum is an upgrade of bitcoin itself, which is still waiting for its smart contract functionalities through Rootstock, as well as an upgrade of analogue money. Developers, seeing the new capabilities, flocked, as did ordinary users, investors, household brands, consortiums.


A new vibrant ecosystem was born that began to think of Decentralized, Autonomous Organizations, a world of no CEOs, no Board of Directors, where VC investment is open to all, where machines gain a basic level of intelligence through the added ability to act by autonomously transferring value.


From music, games and wider entertainment, social networking, finance, record keeping, theft prevention, goods authentication, poker, smart locks and the addition of value exchange to the internet of things, it seemed and still seems that everything is about to be transformed.

The Ethereum Way


As new visions found articulation and an optimistic community focused on a new future, price began to rise and rise with projects launched daily, household brands showing support, regulators cheerleading the new world and the mainstream media abuzz with Ethereum’s rise.


The atmosphere of those few months can hardly be described more precisely than there was a feeling something is happening here. So much was new and futuristic that for the first time in a long time we could once more dream, with our imagination seemingly finding no bounds.


We were building a new world and everyone wanted a part of it. Thus, people flocked, frenzy took hold, price rose higher and higher until reality finally caught up with the Slockit DAO hack. Here too ethereum pioneered this space by providing a fail-safe for the funds which the hacker could not take out. A reasonable debate followed, with pros and cons on both sides. Vitalik’s leadership aided in steering the community towards a quick conclusion. Whether rightly or wrongly, a tragedy was averted with the support of some 90% of Ethereum’s ecosystem, which, uniquely, was able to come to a quick decision.


Some now say that’s it for ethereum, just as many said that’s it for bitcoin in 2011, or more recently, that’s it for self driving cars after their first accident, or SpaceX after a rocket explosion. Most, however, closed that chapter and went to Ethereum’s coming out party, Devcon2.


It was the biggest conference of the year when the whole space was on display. Project after project took to the podium, household brands made announcements after announcements, industry leaders within and outside the blockchain space rushed to show their support in a week-long blockchain summit that few will forget.


It was the height of Ethereum, for this year. Slowly, the party gave way to the hangover with a series of exploits leading to intentional and unintentional forks. Combined with bitcoin’s ever rising price, ETH decided to go to bed and sleep it all over, maintaining a price of around 7-8 dollars for now quite some time.

Ethereum, The Future


Yet, when we look, it is safe to say ethereum will probably roar again. Despite the ever-rising price, bitcoin’s community remains divided with no end solution in sight regarding scalability as miners appear to have rejected all proposals. There are few, if any, exciting bitcoin projects one can recall, with the focus now simply that of holding the piece of code as if it is gold. Attention, therefore, will probably return to ETH as developers continue tinkering with the javascript like code and some launch their projects.


Moreover, ETH’s work on Casper, the project which is to turn the currency into a proof of stake system, is likely to attract much attention and excitement for it may provide far higher security than proof of work while preserving our environment and scarce energy resources. Equally, or even more so, sharding will be a breakthrough for all of this space and a method that probably all digital currencies sooner or later will employ.


Projects that have already been launched will now be tested in a real-world environment, with most probably failing, giving rise to new ones that have learned from past experience. New ideas will rise, some of which, with constant tinkering and improvement, might reach a critical mass.


The many launched and to be launched projects have little to do with the qualities of money – fixed quantity – and more to do with the nature of money –  truly digital which allows for autonomous execution, no need for a bank account, no third-party intermediary, can securely be held by a machine, etc. Sooner or later, all money, whether centrally issued or otherwise, will be, whether fully or in part, likewise digitized for the benefits to industry and commerce are obvious. Ethereum, therefore, will continue to attract much attention from established companies which might wish to bring this future forward or gain a competitive edge by preparing for its arrival.


As such, Vitalik has created a new frontier. In the process, he has transformed digital currencies from mere money, to their full potential of programmable code, creating an ecosystem and community which dares to dream of a very new world.

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