Crypto has pulled off its big upgrade. Even greater ambitions await you.

The platform that hosts many NFT and cryptocurrency exchanges around the world has just completed one of the trickiest upgrades in modern technology.

Now come the really big goals.

Earlier this week, Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin and his team successfully completed a long-awaited transition of their blockchain – moving the way it verifies transactions from a system based on complex computer calculations to a human-based system. A blockchain is a digital ledger that records and displays all transactions that take place on it.

The change, known as fusion, will save huge amounts of energy and stop carbon from getting into the air. As a result, it will also increase Ethereum’s transaction capacity from a measly 15 per second to 100,000, a change the developers hope will make Ethereum a bigger part of modern life.

But despite all the hype from the crypto world about the merger, it’s just the latest step in a grand plan that Buterin has been planning for years. In Buterin’s future, digital life isn’t just more immersive – it’s a place without hierarchy where Ethereum allows people to socialize differently, set policies without government, and borrow money without problem. major intermediaries.

“If the merger fully works, I think we can really make Ethereum a tool for a more democratic and equal society,” said Merav Ozair, a former Rutgers professor who recently launched the crypto consultancy Blockchain. Intelligence. “With lots of ideas,” she added, “it could make the world a better place.”

The long-term success of the merger is not guaranteed. Ethereum’s new security system relies on the sponginess of human behavior, which makes it vulnerable to exploitation. Many crypto critics are also skeptical of Buterin, wondering if his ideas that limit the influence of big institutions can really be implemented and worrying about the potential for abuse.

That didn’t stop Buterin, a 28-year-old crypto prodigy, to have a slew of ambitious plans.

Buterin had an early Doogie Howser-like start in advanced research tools. He came to Toronto from Russia with his father when he was 6 years old and soon showed a childhood fondness for Excel spreadsheets. At just 19 years old, Buterin published a seminal white paper that laid the groundwork for Ethereum and NFTs – the unique digital creations that would become a speculative bubble – extending far beyond what bitcoin did.

He has since cultivated an air of an uprooted idealist. Despite having great wealth from holding ETH — essentially bitcoin’s version of Ethereum — Buterin lives nomadically, couch-hopping from friend to friend. (He has 360 flights in nine years.) Buterin was unavailable for an interview for this story.

Buterin has long filled his blog with his own academic-style posts, and this month he and crypto academician Nathan Schneider curated them into a book titled “Proof of Stake,” after the new protocol centered on cryptography. ethereum human.

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In a paper, Buterin and Glen Weyl, an economist at Microsoft Research New England, propose a new way of voting that they believe better reflects preferences: by allowing people to register not just a simple yes or no vote on a ballot, but how strongly they feel about their yes and their no.

“The ultimate effect of these devices deployed in their full form could be as profoundly transformative as the advent in the industrial age of predominantly free markets and constitutional democracy,” wrote Buterin.

Another of his ideas has him slowly supplementing or even supplanting NFTs, or “non-fungible tokens,” with SBTs, “soul-bound tokens,” a term borrowed from gambling in which digital assets are forever tied to a single person. So, instead of tokens that can be auctioned off for large sums of money, as NFTs often are, soulbound tokens could not be appropriated by the highest bidder. An SBT could represent a degree, for example, or attendance at a historic concert.

“A common criticism of the ‘web3’ space as it exists today is how money-oriented everything is,” Buterin writes in the book, using the term to refer to the world of crypto and the blockchain. “People are celebrating ownership, and the outright waste, of vast amounts of wealth. Making more items in the crypto space ‘soulbound’ may be a pathway to an alternative, where NFTs may represent a lot more of who you are and not just what you can afford.

But Molly White, the famed crypto critic, said in a message to The Washington Post that she was concerned about Buterin’s approach.

“It seems to have given very little thought to real-world use and potential for abuse – even suggesting that criminal records could be uploaded to the blockchain,” she said of SBTs.

“One thing I’ve discovered about Vitalik is that his new ideas often don’t seem to consider human behavior or potential abuse,” she added.

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A different proposal from Buterin would allow a city’s citizens, not politicians, to make governance decisions directly, with algorithms in place to keep things counted and fair. People would receive digital tokens they could use to formulate policy on everything from zoning to traffic laws.

All of this is made possible, he argues, by Ethereum, which registers entries with high levels of sophistication.

Those working with Buterin say he wants to reinvent Web3 and Ethereum before they become even more entrenched as get-rich-quick schemes than they already are.

“Vitalik’s goal is to find solutions to what he sees as deep problems in our social structure and apply them in the Ethereum ecosystem,” Weyl said. “Then it will take what it learns in Ethereum and apply it outside of the ecosystem.”

But if the skeptics are right, it might have no effect at all.

“I’m completely unconvinced that any of these ideas are worth anything because they seem concocted without reference to anything people who aren’t weird crypto ancaps want,” the author said. crypto-skeptic David Gerard, referring to anarcho-capitalists.

Gerard said the soul-bound idea “was literally an episode of Black Mirror already.” Netflix’s dystopian show once had social status scores floating next to people. Gerard said he had no problem with Buterin, whom he believed to be well-meaning, just with his ideas.

And despite all the benefits of the merger, there is still little evidence that even an improved ethereum can help Buterin’s ideas thrive in the real world. The mere fact of welcoming more users does not guarantee the transition from a financial tool to a social tool.

Even Weyl, Buterin’s collaborator, is not convinced. “The merger expands the reach of Ethereum, no doubt. But it won’t change the distribution of business,” he said. “We’re going to need other motions for that.”

It would look different from a traditional business. There are few hierarchies at Ethereum; ideas come from developers and community members. The nonprofit Ethereum Foundation is overseen by a three-person board of which Buterin is a member but does not lead.

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Some experts, however, think he can still change the world. Silicon Valley trailblazer and maverick Jaron Lanier said in an interview that he was sold.

Noting that he liked Buterin because, “unlike so many tech billionaires, he doesn’t have a ‘mogul brain,'” Lanier said, those who fired Buterin were missing an opportunity.

“I don’t agree with Vitalik on everything,” he said. “But I think we can have a society in the future that works better than it otherwise and makes people happier than they otherwise would be.”

He said he was encouraged by the time Buterin spent wrestling with these questions.

“Actually, it’s kind of surprising that not everyone in tech thinks that way,” Lanier said.

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