Who is Vitalik Buterin, the founder of Ethereum

Who is Vitalik Buterin, the founder of Ethereum

Who is Vitalik Buterin

A more pragmatic computer genius than expected, and one that could bring the blockchain to its final consecration.

(photo: John Phillips / Getty Images for TechCrunch) There is a story that perfectly describes the difference between the two main platforms based on blockchain and cryptocurrencies: Ethereum, founded by Vitalik Buterin, and Bitcoin. It is June 17, 2016 and on Ethereum, which unlike its rival allows you to rely on it to create new applications, the unexpected happens: a hacker finds a bug in a fully automated investment fund (The Dao) that lives on the blockchain of Ethereum. Thanks to this bug, it is possible to withdraw the money invested several times. In practice, the hacker had discovered a way to use that fund as an ATM that continues to give out banknotes, always considering it a single withdrawal.

The hacker, therefore, did not tamper with the code, but exploited a hole in it. Is it a scam or should it be considered the equivalent of a legislative vacuum, in an environment - such as that of the blockchain - in which the code is law? For purists there is no doubt: the hacker should not even be considered such and his action cannot be punished, because he followed the rules by exploiting the mechanism of the program. However, the author of the theft, never identified, had stolen $ 50 million out of a total of 160 million invested, stealing directly from the pockets of thousands of supporters of this ambitious use of the blockchain.

Vitalik Buterin does not take long to choose what to do: exploiting his prestige as founder of Ethereum he creates a hard fork (an irreversible separation of the blockchain, on which transactions are recorded) and, taking advantage of the fact that stolen ethers could not be converted into dollars for 30 days, cancels the exchanges that occurred after the hacker intervened, thus saving the savings of thousands of people. It is a crucial moment in the history of Ethereum, which, faced with a dilemma, opts for pragmatism instead of purism, and decides to protect honest investors even at the cost of dispelling the myth of the irreversibility of the blockchain (only a small part of participants in the Ethereum blockchain will not follow it, thus giving life to Ethereum Classic).

On the other hand, the presence of a figure like that of Vitalik Buterin already says a lot about the differences between Ethereum and bitcoin, which do not have a central point of reference (following the voluntary disappearance of the unknown Satoshi Nakamoto ) and whose community is not structured in a real organization (the Ethereum Foundation). Buterin himself has repeatedly amazed the crypto-world with statements that would make the most radical followers of the blockchain shudder, for example by defending the existence of "private" blockchains (created by companies and which sacrifice decentralization in the name of speed) and above all stating that "people who do not accept rules or economic incentives to carry out their projects can never get anything done" (a real indictment of the most upright circles).

Despite still being - seven years after the birth of Ethereum - only 27 years old, Vitalik Buterin is very far from the stereotype of the radical and granite internet rebel, but is on the contrary a person who values ​​compromises and so there are no unavoidable dogmas. An approach that does not surprise those who know in person this boy of Russian origin but raised in Canada, who represents in all respects the stereotype of the nerd: skinny, shy and awkward (his first introductions of Ethereum are anything but brilliant), passionate about video games, dressed in unlikely t-shirts, yet ready to give up everything and travel the world to spread the word of Ethereum and the blockchain.

It is thanks to his father Dmitry, a computer engineer, that Vitalik learned in 2011 of the existence of the distributed ledger, born years earlier together with bitcoins. Buterin became passionate about the topic and began writing articles for a specialized online magazine, getting paid something like 5 bitcoins per article (at the time it was about 4 dollars, today it would be 250 thousand). In September of the same year he instead founded Bitcoin Magazine, one of the very first true magazines on the subject of cryptocurrencies.

Meanwhile, the value of bitcoins begins to grow rapidly (in November 2013 they hit 1,000) and Vitalik decides to leave university, devote himself completely to this environment and travel the world backpacking to get to know everyone else passionate. However, there is one thing that does not convince him of bitcoins: why use the blockchain only to create a decentralized digital currency, when it is obvious that much more could be done? It is on this occasion that the still 19-year-old computer genius really puts his talent to the test, presenting in 2014 the Ethereum white paper: a real platform, governed by the cryptocurrency ether, on which it is possible to create other applications based on blockchain.

A colossal difference compared to bitcoins and which immediately attracts a lot of attention. There are those who try to build decentralized music streaming platforms, those who create the aforementioned The DAO; there are projects for computer voting such as Follow The Vote and many more. Meanwhile, the value of Ethereum rises rapidly, going from around 8 dollars in the early days of 2017 to over 1,000 at the end of the same year (before collapsing following the famous burst of the crypto-bubble in winter 2017/2018). The first real successful application of Ethereum, however, is not linked to elections, music or investments, but to a simpler collectible game: the CryptoKitties, which in 2017 are so successful that Buterin's platform (which, like bitcoins, it can only handle a small number of transactions at the same time).

The CryptoKitties are therefore the direct ancestors of the NFTs, the digital collectible objects (often real works of art) that experienced a boom during 2021 and that in most cases work through Ethereum. Similarly, Ethereum is also the platform of choice for DeFi, the decentralized finance that, through the blockchain, allows for the automation of the disbursement of loans to a plurality of subjects based on risk appetite (a mechanism in part similar to social lending ). Everything is regulated on the basis of smart contracts - contracts that are executed automatically when the conditions signed by the parties are met - thus reducing the possibility of scams and above all eliminating the need for intermediaries and controllers.

Ethereum, therefore, has firmly established itself as the most multifaceted platform in the blockchain universe, capable of hosting applications of all kinds. But there is a problem: like bitcoins, Ethereum also requires an enormous amount of energy to function. An aspect that not only dismissed some artists and investors interested in NFTs (alarmed by the environment or at least by the repercussions in terms of image), but also directly worries Buterin himself, who long ago declared: "It is a waste of resources which affects the whole of society. And that can lead all those who care about the environment to be our enemies instead of our friends ".

The consumption of Ethereum is in fact a situation that Vitalik has been aiming to change for years, moving from the proof-of-work system (in which thousands of increasingly powerful computers are competing to be the first to solve an algorithmic puzzle and validate the transactions) to the proof-of-stake, in which who validates the transactions is chosen randomly, increasing however their chances based on the ether placed as a deposit. It is the so-called Ethereum 2.0, which will be launched in the course of 2022 and which many think will lead to the definitive mainstream adoption of Ethereum. It is at the landing of the atypical Vitalik Buterin in the Olympus of the tech world.

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