Love it or hate it, crypto is changing the world of finance — and Vitalik Buterin is at the forefront.
He has been since he was 19 years old, when he first conceived Ethereum, a blockchain built on the same technology that powers the Bitcoin network. In just a few years, Buterin has been dubbed the “prince of crypto” and become one of the most-watched figures in the space. (He also showed up to the Ethereum conference in Denver this year in Shiba Inu pajama pants.)
Ether, Ethereum’s native token, is now the world’s second-largest cryptocurrency. But just because Ethereum is nearing the 10-year mark doesn’t mean Buterin, now 28, and his co-founders are done with it. He’s constantly working on the future of Ethereum, most recently releasing an updated roadmap complete with emojis. Though it may be gibberish to anyone not steeped in the language of digital assets, the roadmap outlines big plans.
Buterin really believes this technology can, and will, change the world.
While the Bitcoin network has so far been centered around currency, Ethereum’s potential uses extend far beyond finance. Ethereum is programmable, meaning other developers can build and deploy decentralized applications on it in areas like gaming and supply chain management. Ethereum also powers most NFTs, the digital assets that Jimmy Fallon, Paris Hilton, Nike, Coachella and more are obsessed with.
But crypto also comes with a lot of risks, dogedammit (we stole that word from Buterin himself). As he admitted in a recent interview with the New York Times’ Ezra Klein, crypto is still a “very early stage, untested, and risky thing.” There are the intense price swings, like ether hitting a high of about $4,800 per coin in November 2021 and tumbling down to about $1,100 over the last year. Concerns abound about government regulation and how safe crypto investments actually are — even if they’re being held on big exchanges whose names are becoming mainstream. Recently, FTX, one of largest crypto exchanges in the world, imploded.
Buterin knows he helped create this world. He also wants to help fix it.
“I personally would not blame anyone for being suspicious of the crypto space, because I think most sane people within the crypto space are themselves — ourselves — suspicious of large parts of the crypto space,” the Russian-born Canadian told Klein in September.
The fact that Buterin constructed a network that is decentralized was key to a lot of the ideas he wanted to implement, but cracking down on the dangers will be hard. That’s because decentralization means no one is in charge — not even Buterin. Anyone who is part of the Ethereum community can, in theory, have a say over its future.
Still, Buterin is looking ahead. In September, nearly eight years after Ethereum launched, the network notched a milestone: the Merge, an upgrade that laid a foundation for more scalability and allowed the Ethereum network to reduce its energy consumption by around 99%. (This is important, as massive energy consumption is a major criticism of the Bitcoin network.)
There’s more work to do. The goals in the now six-part roadmap for Ethereum include limiting “costs of participating in the network” and ensuring “credibly neutral transaction inclusion,” meaning Buterin doesn’t want Ethereum to discriminate against anyone.
As buzz around the metaverse, decentralization and crypto grows, you’ll likely start hearing more about Ethereum — and what Buterin is doing next.