In a thought-provoking blog post, Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin outlined his comprehensive vision for the future of Ethereum. He explored the potential of decentralized tools and privacy technologies, aiming to shape a more secure and versatile Ethereum ecosystem.
Before delving into his vision, it’s crucial to understand what ‘cypherpunk’ means. Cypherpunks advocate for the use of cryptography and similar privacy-enhancing technologies as a route to social and political change. Originating in the late 20th century, this movement is characterized by the belief that individuals can achieve greater personal freedom and security through decentralized, anonymous systems.
Cypherpunk and Ethereum: A Natural Alignment
Buterin’s vision for Ethereum aligns with the cypherpunk ethos, emphasizing the importance of decentralized tools and privacy technologies. This approach aims to shape a more secure and versatile Ethereum ecosystem, moving beyond its financial applications to encompass a broader range of decentralized functionalities.
Revisiting Ethereum’s Roots
Buterin reminisced about Ethereum’s early days, when it was introduced alongside decentralized messaging and storage tools. While Ethereum’s financial aspects gained prominence, these other components received less attention. However, projects like Status continue to use decentralized messaging, and Swarm’s development persists alongside newer technologies like IPFS, which hosts Buterin’s blog.
Decentralized Social Media and Privacy Technologies
With the emergence of decentralized social media platforms, Buterin sees an opportunity to revisit and integrate these earlier tools. He highlights the importance of zero-knowledge proofs (ZKPs), not just for Ethereum’s scalability as ZK rollups but also for enhancing privacy. ZKPs can provide both privacy and authentication, moving beyond the binary choice between anonymous but risky and KYC-compliant but safe systems.
Case Study: Zupass and Its Applications
Buterin cites Zupass, a ZKP-based system developed by Zuzalu, as a successful example. Zupass enables users to authenticate their identity for events or online platforms without revealing specific personal details. It ensures that each user has only one anonymous identity per application, enhancing privacy and security.
Envisioning a Cypherpunk Ethereum
Envisioning a cypherpunk world driven by Ethereum, Buterin imagines a scenario where assets are held in ETH, ERC20 tokens, and NFTs, with privacy preserved through stealth addresses and Privacy Pools technology. This setup would prevent bad actors from exploiting anonymity while allowing legitimate users to maintain privacy.
Voting and Governance in Ethereum’s Future
Zero-knowledge voting systems could revolutionize governance within DAOs and the Ethereum protocol. These systems could authenticate voters based on various criteria, such as contributions to the ecosystem or event attendance, without compromising their anonymity.
Payments, Social Media, and Identity on Ethereum
Buterin foresees ultra-cheap transactions on Layer 2 solutions facilitating both in-person and online payments. Decentralized protocols like UniswapX could enable cross-rollup payments. Social media activities could be stored on decentralized platforms, with ENS (Ethereum Name Service) providing cheap, Layer 2-based usernames. Integration between on-chain tokens and off-chain attestations, proven through systems like Zupass, could streamline identity verification processes.
Governance and Community Tools
He advocates for tools like quadratic voting and prediction markets to aid in community governance and decision-making. Blockchain and ZK-proof-based identities could safeguard these systems against internal censorship and external manipulation.
The Ethereum Tech Protocol Stack
Buterin compares traditional and decentralized tech stacks, highlighting Ethereum’s potential to compete with centralized systems. He notes the synergies in using various parts of the decentralized stack, such as ZKEmail, which integrates email with Ethereum-based social recovery wallets.
Ethereum’s Pluralist Ethos and Social Layer
Emphasizing Ethereum’s pluralistic nature, Buterin argues that its strength lies in its diverse sub-communities and interoperability. He stresses the importance of Ethereum’s social layer in fostering a cooperative and open-source ethos, balancing incentives with community values.
Challenges and Integration Strategies
Buterin acknowledges the challenges in maintaining decentralization and funding non-profitable yet crucial components of the decentralized stack. He suggests iterative development of cooperative techniques and large-scale public goods funding, like Gitcoin Grants, to support developers.
Conclusion: A Balanced Ethereum Ecosystem
In conclusion, Buterin envisions an Ethereum ecosystem that balances incentives with a strong community ethos. He sees Ethereum’s unique position as a blend of economic and technical innovation, underpinned by a community-driven approach. This vision aims to create a more open, decentralized world, leveraging Ethereum’s full potential beyond its financial applications.