Ethereum’s Vitalik Buterin Deep Dives into Disappointing Graveyard Failed Ideas


Vitalik Buterin made a surprising effort at Devcon5 by singing a song about various failed ethereum research ideas. Some of the lyrics entail,

“Consensus by bet – that didn’t work. Hub and spoke chains – that didn’t work. Proof-of-proof-of-work – that didn’t work. Hyper cube chains – that also didn’t work!”

Interestingly enough, ethereum was the star of Devcon4, in which elements of its past, present, and future were discussed. Buterin, contrary to many, shared his negative perception of ethereum on stage. The main emphasis of his qualm had to do with ethereum’s development history, learning curves, and “aborted attempts at solving Casper.”

Casper was a mining-based proof-of-work consensus algorithm that had been long-anticipated – and still is. The project has been in the works since 2015. Many have taken to calling the project “Shasper” because it has been fused with a scaling method called sharding. Others refer to it as ethereum 2.0 and Buterin calls it, “Serenity,” stating “I refuse to call it Shasper because I find it lame.”

Buterin also discussed that the switch may take place soon as well, noting “100 percent genuine pure organic Casper.” He seemed excited on how Switch would impact the ethereum platform, stating, “Serenity is the ‘world computer’ as it really meant to be, not a smartphone from 1999 that can play snake.”

Moving on to Casper’s history and the development of sharding, Buterin pinpointed a few errors and deviations from the blueprint. For instance, one of the early ideas of the project was a named consensus-by-bet, but it was given up due to incompatibility. Buterin stated,

“We created an entire proof-of-concept, it burnt months of our time.”

Further, in 2016, the DAO hack occurred and subsequent Shanghai attacks, which together led to a delay of six months in research. Buterin stated,

“People were continuing to get a better and better idea of what a more optimal algorithm would look like.” Buterin then mentioned that in 2017, “We managed to nail down what a specification of hybrid [proof-of-stake] would look like.”

And a few months ago, the platform also switched a proof-of-stake switch for an efficient alternative called Shaster. Buterin mentioned that the move “did end up nullifying work that was done before” and that it also enhanced the development process by combining Casper and sharding workflows that had been functioning separately. He stated,

“If we worked on one spec, one protocol that would get us the benefit of proof-of-stake and sharding at the same time.”

At the current point, Buterin informed the audience that four phases will mark Serenity’s introduction. The first phase will be zero and it will introduce “beacon chain,” a new proof-of-stake based blockchain coexisting along ethereum and that will allow participation by Casper validators. He commented, “This is halfway between testnet and mainnet.”

The second phase is a “simplified version” of Serenity and it will feature “shards as data chains” equipped to handle data storage, but unable to handle smart contracts or money that is transferred from one shard to another.

The third phase focuses on cross-shard communication that enables users to transfer funds and messages across various shards. The final phase will include tweaks and optimizations.

Buterin also discussed the future and suggested “improvements in privacy.” He added that there is an interest in updating the blockchain to starks. Starks is a cryptographic mechanism allowing for the aggregation of transactions in a trustless manner.

The verification moves them into verifiable batches and offers high-end privacy mechanisms. This type of system is already being developed by Stakrware, which received a $4 million grant from Ethereum Foundation. He also discussed the conditions that need to take place before Serenity’s launch, such as stabilization of the technical manual guiding development. He stated,

“The spec has been moving fairly quickly but will stabilize fairly soon.” The specification will then be made into various programming languages. Buterin stated, “I think we’re not that far from having a release candidate for the spec. Launch – that’s the milestone we’ve been waiting for, that the milestone working toward for the past four or five years, and that’s actually not that far away.”

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