SDC: Scaling decentralized networks with Ethereum’s Vitalik Buterin
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SDC: Scaling decentralized networks with Ethereum’s Vitalik Buterin

A few weeks ago, Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin spoke at the Samsung Developer Conference, where he discussed how Samsung is working to support blockchains and cryptocurrencies through its mobile SDK.

In the podcast below, Samsung NEXT’s Ricardo Mendez got a chance to talk with Vitalik about the current state of decentralized networks and applications, and his team is working to rebuild the Ethereum platform to make it faster and more reliable. If you found it interesting, subscribe to more of these conversations on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotify, or via RSS on your podcast app of choice.

When Vitalik Buterin, the founder of Ethereum, took the stage at the Samsung Developer Conference 2019, he quickly got to his main point: “Blockchains and cryptocurrencies are even more about the people than they are about the technology.”

The human dimensions of blockchain technology started to take shape for Vitalik while developing Etherium, as he was thinking about how to help developers and create security mechanisms that align with the way people use their devices.

Ethereum, like other blockchains, has a native cryptocurrency called Ether (ETH). It also is programmable, which means developers can use it to build new kinds of applications.

Vitalik started his blockchain work with Bitcoin, the most well-known blockchain cryptocurrency. He soon realized that the use cases technologists had in mind for blockchain were fairly narrow in scope, with applications focused on tasks such as registering domains and creating digital assets.

Although Vitalik knew he wanted to develop a more general-purpose blockchain solution, the question was how. The answer was to develop a blockchain programming language, which led to the development of Ethereum.

From Blockchain to Smart Contracts
Ethereum is an open-source platform that can be used to develop decentralized applications. Developers can use the platform to create programs for controlling digital assets, such as financial instruments and ownership of an underlying physical device.

The programs developed using Ethereum are known as “smart contracts.” Ethereum includes a decentralized virtual machine that provides support for general-purpose programming. Vitalik said this enables “smart contracts, cryptographic ‘boxes’ that contain value and only unlock it if certain conditions are met, can also be built on top of the platform, with vastly more power than that offered by Bitcoin.”

Vitalik elaborated on how Ethereum could help developers. Some widely needed components, he said, include crypto wallets — for storing keys and managing cryptocurrency assets — as well as support for using blockchain in mobile apps. Vitalik also pointed out that the Ethereum community of developers is also working on better support for lightweight processors, which will help extend the reach of Ethereum.

Although mobile development issues are a priority, Vitalik believes the PC market is also an important area to support. Samsung, he said, is doing valuable work integrating support for Ethereum and applications through its SDK. Samsung’s mobile SDK, for example, provides developers with components such as block key stores for storing private data.

Human Factors of Security
Security is another focus of Ethereum. For example, helping if someone loses a phone with their private key on it. Vitalik noted that current practices are not enough. “Accounts that are secured by one private key on one device are just not the sort of model that you would want to kind of push to people,” he said. “It’s worse than the old ways.”

As an alternative, he suggested using smart contracts with multiple keys distributed across multiple persons and institutions. In fact, blockchain and smart contracts are creating new types of user experience challenges. Vitalik believes this is pushing the blockchain community to experiment and iterate on UX features. Improving users experiences is one of the keys to scaling blockchain solutions, he said.

What Lies Ahead for Ethereum
Vitalik closed his session at the conference with some thoughts on the future of blockchain from both technology and human factors perspectives.

Looking to the future, Vitalik predicts that 5G and faster internet connections will be a huge boost to blockchain scalability and improve transaction throughput.

But he is indifferent about consortiums and private blockchains. “It’s very hard to make them actually decentralized enough that people will trust them,” he said. “In the long term, public blockchains will be more successful.”

Despite a positive outlook for public blockchains, Vitalik raised concerns about defining and implementing regulations to prevent misaligned incentives in the community. In particular, he is concerned about short-sighted regulations and too much consolidation of the marketplace.

Overall, the future of Ethereum and blockchain is promising. Advances in scalability, privacy protection, and usability research are laying the foundation for “a big wave of applications,” Vitalik concluded.

Over the next several months, we’ll be sharing podcasts weekly from interviews recorded at SDC and Web Summit. You can subscribe to all those conversations on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotify, or via RSS on your podcast app of choice.

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