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Vitalik Buterin

Vitalik Buterin (born January 31, 1994) is a Russian-Canadian programmer and writer primarily known as a co-founder of  and as a co-founder of [10] Magazine. Buterin first appeared on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list at age 23.[1]

Early Life & Education

Buterin was born in Kolomna, Moscow Oblast, Russia, to Dmitry Buterin, a computer scientist, and Natalia Ameline (née Chistyakova). He lived there until the age of six when his parents emigrated to Canada in search of better employment opportunities. While in grade three of an elementary school in Canada, Buterin was placed into a class for gifted children and started to understand that he was drawn to math, programming, and economics. He also could add three-digit numbers in his head at twice the speed of his peers.[10]

wikiVitalik and his father Dima Buterin

Buterin attended the Abelard School, a private high school in Toronto, for four years, which he said: [11]

"proved to be among the most interesting and productive years of my life; the closer connection between students and teachers [&] the level of depth at which the material was taught, made me want to learn and to focus on learning as my primary goal".

Buterin had written that although he was "never particularly inspired by the traditional education system" when subjects were presented with "dedication and focus on intellectual inquiry":

"I noticed my attitude and my results almost immediately and drastically change. Education is ultimately much more than simply memorizing individual facts, or even learning individual concepts. [What] matters most: learning how to think, learning how to reason, and learning how to learn."

Buterin learned about , from his father, at age 17. In 2012, he obtained a bronze medal in the International Olympiad in Informatics. In 2013, he visited developers in other countries who shared his enthusiasm for code. He returned to Toronto later that year and published a white paper proposing . He attended the University of Waterloo but dropped out in 2014 when he received the Thiel Fellowship for $100,000 and went to work on full-time.[12]

Wanting to be part of the emerging Bitcoin economy, he began writing articles for a blog to earn Bitcoin tokens since he couldn't mine or buy them. His articles caught Mihai Alisie's attention, leading to the co-founding of Bitcoin Magazine in late 2011. He left university to focus on writing, traveling, and crypto work. [31]

While exploring various crypto projects worldwide, he found them too specialized. Believing in the need for a more versatile blockchain, he realized the potential to create such a platform using a Turing-complete programming language. [31]

On 30 November 2018, Vitalik Buterin received an Honorary Doctorate from the Faculty of Business and Economics of the University of Basel on the occasion of the Dies Academicus.[12]

Career

Beginnings at Bitcoin Magazine

Buterin met a person on a chat forum trying to start a Bitcoin blog. The owner offered five bitcoins (about $3.50) to anyone who would write an article for him. Buterin wrote for the site until its website shut down soon after that due to Bitcoin's lack of mainstream attention.

In September 2011, another person reached out to Buterin about a new publication called Bitcoin Magazine, a position which Buterin would accept as the first co-founder, and contribute as a leading writer.[13]

In addition, Buterin wrote about Bitcoin-related topics for other publications, including Bitcoin Weekly. In 2012, Bitcoin Magazine began publishing a print edition and has been referred to as the first serious publication dedicated to Bitcoin Magazine was then purchased by Media, where Buterin continued to write until mid-2014.[14]

In addition, he held a position on the editorial board of Ledger, a peer-reviewed scholarly journal that publishes full-length original research articles on the subjects of and technology.[15]

Ethereum

Buterin is a co-founder and inventor of , described as a "decentralized mining network and software development platform rolled into one" that facilitates the creation of new and programs that share a single  (a cryptographic transaction ledger). [16]

Buterin traveled around the world for six months in 2013 to speak with developers. He understood that he could construct a new, possibly superior version by iterating on the Bitcoin . To explain this idea, he linked to a calculator and a future to a smartphone and applied the same principle of improving the system's strength by making it more general-purpose to blockchain networks. [3]


The project was publicly announced in January 2014, with the core team consisting of Vitalik Buterin, , , , , and . Buterin also presented on stage at a conference in Miami. A few months later, the team decided to hold an (ICO) of , the native token of the Ethereum network, to fund the development. Around the same time, Vitalik himself received the Thiel Fellowship grant of $100,000. The team raised more than 31,000 BTC from the sale of ETH, around $18 million at the time. The team established the Ethereum Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Switzerland, which was tasked with overseeing Ethereum's open-source software development. [3]

After a series of testing and bug bounty phases, in the summer of 2015, went live.
The first version was known as , and although it was very basic, it paved the way for digital app development. [2]

As per one of his interviews, Buterin created after World of Warcraft developers weakened his prized character. According to his About Me page, he played World of Warcraft from 2007 to 2010 but decided to quit after game maker Blizzard decreased the power of his "beloved warlock's Siphon Life spell." [4]

In addition, Buterin mentioned as a key part of the metaverse when it comes to digital identity:

“The Ethereum domain name service ENS is by far the most successful non-financial Ethereum application, and it can basically be compared to a decentralized phone book.”[6]

Ethereum’s Shanghai and Capella forks, known as Shapella, went live on April 12, 2023, at epoch 194,048, allowing stakers to withdraw their for the first time. The event was the network’s first major upgrade since The Merge transitioned Ethereum to consensus in September 2022.
After Shapella went live, Buterin said during an Ethereum Foundation Livestream:[25]

“The Shapella upgrade closes the loop on some things that are part of the PoS transition but did not make it in time for the merge, withdrawals obviously being really important,” Buterin said during an Ethereum Foundation livestream.” The immediate next focus after this… is going to be scaling.”

In a blog post published on Jun 9, 2023, Buterin laid out his ideas for what it will take to help mature if it is to expand in use. Calling them “The Three Transitions", Buterin released the roadmap addressing Scaling, privacy, and Wallet Security. Buterin said they would need to evolve around transitions in layer-2, or “L2,” scaling solutions, a move to wallets, and greater privacy for fund transfers.
Buterin said,

"If Ethereum is to expand how it's used, it will need to undergo three major transitions or risk undermining its own future."

Of these three transitions, Buterin singled out a need to expand the use of L2 solutions called “rollups” as an important part of this transition. An ordinary L2 function processes transactions off of the main Ethereum blockchain, or the L1. Buterin said,

"the move to smart contract wallets has some "technical issues" to work through but is "not a large burden" to address."

Of the three transitions, Buterin expressed concern that meeting privacy concerns would be among the bigger challenges. He said,

“Without [privacy], Ethereum fails because having all transactions available publicly for literally anyone to see is far too high a privacy sacrifice for many users."

To address this, Buterin suggested using "stealth address" to help protect user identities, but these methods are still maturing because of issues around cost and functionality. [23][24]

The Merge

After eight years of having consensus, the completed its shift to consensus following the merge of the and the Beacon Chain. Another key change of the Merge was a reduction in power consumption, reducing Ethereum’s energy usage by 99%. The Merge took place on September 15, 2022. [19]

During the Merge, Buterin joined the Merge Viewing Party livestream hosted by the Ethereum Foundation. When asked if he was excited about the Merge, Buterin responded that he was,

"absolutely excited about being exited from the proof-of-work era."

He also mentioned that the transition of the network from to  was in his plans for years:

“[It] has obviously been a dream for the Ethereum ecosystem since pretty much the beginning. We started the proof-of-stake research with that blog post on Slosher back in January 2014.” [20]

After the Merge was complete, Buterin posted the following tweet:

"And we finalized! Happy merge all. This is a big moment for the Ethereum ecosystem. Everyone who helped make the merge happen should feel very proud today." [18]

Stealth Addresses


Buterin shared his interest on how to increase privacy on . He outlined in a blog post a tool that could enable users of the network to better protect their privacy: stealth addresses. These would consist of wallet addresses that are cryptographically tied to one’s public address, but can only be discovered by the parties involved in the transaction.

Buterin stated that the scheme would allow for a greater number of digital assets to be transferred from one user to another in a privacy-focused manner. Ethereum-based privacy protocol , he noted, only allows for the transaction of major . Stealth addresses would offer the opportunity to privately send any token, no matter how small the project, POAPs, , ENS names, and other digital assets.

On January 20, 2023, Buterin posted an article named "An incomplete guide to stealth addresses". He described the mechanics and use cases of a different category of tool that could improve the state of privacy on in several other contexts: stealth addresses. This article explained the definition of the stealth address system and many other sophisticated technical topics such as "stealth address with " and "Stealth addresses and quantum-resistant security".
wikiThis post also described transaction fees, easier scanning, social recovery, and multi-L2 wallets. [22][21]

Open Source Software

Buterin has contributed as a developer to other open-source software projects. Some early examples are Kryptokit, pybitcointools, multisig.info, and btckeysplit. He also contributed to by Cody Wilson, Python libraries, and the  marketplace site Egora. [14]

Ethereum in China

In 2014, following the release of Ethereum's initial white paper, Buterin traveled to China, where a significant Ethereum community had formed. He engaged with developers, enthusiasts, and business leaders through conferences, meetups, and events to discuss Ethereum and its potential applications. [31]

To ensure effective communication with the Chinese-speaking community, Buterin conducted interviews in Mandarin, collaborated with Chinese media outlets, and utilized Chinese social media platforms. [31]

In May 2016, the ChinaLedger Alliance was established, consisting of 11 regional exchanges. The alliance aimed to develop an open-source blockchain protocol while adhering to China's regulatory requirements, with Buterin and other notable figures in the blockchain community providing advisory support. [31]

Additionally, Buterin serves as a general partner at Fenbushi Venture Capital, a venture capital firm in China focusing on blockchain technology investments. [31]

Despite China's regulatory restrictions on cryptocurrency-related activities like ICOs and cryptocurrency exchanges, Ethereum and its underlying technology have not been explicitly targeted. [31]

Ethereum-based projects have emerged in China, including decentralized exchanges, supply chain solutions, and financial applications leveraging Ethereum's smart contract functionality. However, Ethereum faces competition from other Chinese blockchain projects like NEO and VeChain, particularly in specific industries or use cases. [31]

Ethereum in Russia

In August 2017, Buterin spoke at the Skolkovo Innovation Center in Moscow, attracting over 5,000 attendees. He noted Russia's involvement in blockchain research, alongside England and Singapore, and highlighted Moscow's significant presence in the Ethereum network. [31]

During his visit, Buterin mentioned President Vladimir Putin's awareness of blockchain technology, suggesting heightened interest. Media reports speculated that Buterin's meeting with Putin was a prerequisite for his visit. They discussed potential applications of Buterin's technologies in Russia, which received presidential support. [31]

In October 2017, Sberbank, Russia's largest state-owned bank, joined the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance, alongside QIWI, an electronic payment service provider. Sberbank reported progress in collaboration with regulators and other entities, including successful testing of financial instruments. [31]

During his visit, Buterin partnered with Vladislav Martynov, CEO of Yota Services, leading to the establishment of Ethereum Russia. This initiative aims to provide educational programs and support for Vneshtorgbank (VTB), a state-owned Russian development bank. VTB funded a blockchain research center at the National University of Science and Technology (MISiS), which Ethereum Russia will support. The center aims to develop solutions for governmental services in collaboration with public and private entities. [31]

Awards and Recognition

  • Thiel Fellowship Award, 2014
  • World Technology Award in the IT Software category, 2014
  • Fortune 40 under 40 list, 2016.
  • Forbes 30 under 30 list, 2018.
  • Fortune the ledger 40 under 40 list, 2018.
  • University of Basel Honorary doctorate, 2018.

Philanthropy

Vitalik donated $763,970 worth of to the Machine Intelligence Research Institute in 2017. He also donated $2.4 million worth of Ether to the SENS Research Foundation in 2018, for research on rejuvenation biotechnologies and human life extension. A donation of $1 million worth of Ether was made by Buterin in conjunction with the Ethereum-based OmiseGO open payment platform to the GiveDirectly organization aimed at helping the poorest of poor refugees in Africa, in 2018. [17]

Buterin donated $93,469 worth of Ether, matched by the Pineapple Fund, to the Internet Archive in 2018. [17]

Buterin donated $50,000 to the SENS Research Foundation in 2020. Together with  and Haseeb Qureshi, a total of $150,000 was donated to the SENS Research Foundation to combat aging and aging-related diseases at the choice of users of Twitter through open voting. [7]

In 2021, Buterin donated over $1 billion in crypto to the India Covid Relief Fund set up by Indian tech entrepreneur Sandeep Nailwal. In May, Buterin donated 50 trillion tokens in a single transaction. This donation was 5% of the coin in circulation at the time. Earlier in April, Buterin donated about $600,000 in and tokens to the fund. [5]

Buterin donated $336 million worth of 430 trillion Dogelon Mars ($ELON) to the Methuselah Foundation, which focuses on extending the human lifespan, on May 12, 2021. [8]

In 2022, Vitalik donated 750 ETH to Ukraine's Unchain Foundation’, which converted to about $2.5 million. The Unchain Foundation provides humanitarian assistance to Ukraine during the war. He donated another 750 ETH to Aid for Ukraine, which is a government-run incentive set up by the Ukrainian Ministry of Digital Transformation. [9]

Views on Artificial Intelligence

On November 27, 2023, Vitalik Buterin published a blog post titled My techno-optimism[26], which discussed how (AI) is “fundamentally different” from other inventions like guns, airplanes, and social media. Buterin explained that it could develop a new form of “mind,” which could work against humans and become the new apex species. [27]

Buterin acknowledged the existential risk of artificial intelligence, including causing the extinction of the human race.

“This is an extreme claim: as much harm as the worst-case scenario of climate change, or an artificial pandemic or a nuclear war, might cause, there are many islands of civilization that would remain intact to pick up the pieces,” - he said.

“But a superintelligent AI, if it decides to turn against us, may well leave no survivors and end humanity for good,” Buterin said. “Even Mars may not be safe.” [26]

summarized the article:

“Buterin's 'd/acc' philosophy advocates for a deliberate and balanced path in technological development, focusing on technologies that ensure defense, decentralization, and human flourishing.

“The concept emerges as a counterbalance to the unbridled techno-optimism espoused by figures like Marc Andreessen and challenges the e/acc (effective accelerationist) movement.” [29][30]

Buterin pointed to a 2022 survey by AI Impacts[28], which said between 5% and 10% of participants believe humans face extinction from AI or from humans' failure to control AI, respectively. He said that a security-focused open-source movement is ideal for leading AI development rather than closed and proprietary corporations and venture capital funds. [26]

“If we want a future that is both superintelligent and "human—one where human beings are not just pets, but actually retain meaningful agency over the world—then it feels like something like this is the most natural option," he said. [26]

Vitalik also pointed out the need for new approaches in thinking of how to reduce these risks. He cited OpenAI's governance structure as a good example. He wrote:

"it seems like a well-intentioned effort to balance the need to make a profit to satisfy investors who provide the initial capital with the desire to have a check-and-balance to push against moves that risk OpenAI blowing up the world. In practice, however, their recent attempt to fire Sam Altman makes the structure seem like an abject failure: it centralized power in an undemocratic and unaccountable board of five people, who made key decisions based on secret information and refused to give any details on their reasoning until employees threatened to quit en-masse." [26]

Somehow, the non-profit board played their hands so poorly that the company's employees created an impromptu de-facto union... to side with the billionaire CEO against them." [26]

He cautioned against giving “extreme and opaque power” to a small group of people with the hope they will use it wisely, preferring instead a philosophy of "d/acc"—or defense, decentralization, democracy, and differential. This mindset, he said, could adapt to effective altruists, libertarians, pluralists, blockchain advocates, and solar and lunar punks. [26]

"A defense-favoring world is a better world, for many reasons. First of course is the direct benefit of safety: fewer people die, less economic value gets destroyed, less time is wasted on conflict. What is less appreciated though is that a defense-favoring world makes it easier for healthier, more open and more freedom-respecting forms of governance to thrive" [26]

Buterin concluded that “we, humans, are the brightest star” in the universe, as we’ve developed technology to expand upon human potential for thousands of years, and hopefully many more to come:

"And so it is my firm belief that, out of all the things that we have known and seen in our universe, we, humans, are the brightest star. We are the one thing that we know about that, even if imperfectly, sometimes make an earnest effort to care about "the good", and adjust our behavior to better serve it. Two billion years from now, if the Earth or any part of the universe still bears the beauty of Earthly life, it will be human artifices like space travel and geoengineering that will have made it happen." - Vitalik concluded in his blog post [26]

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Vitalik Buterin

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