Ethereum is quickly building momentum with its second phase release of the Homestead platform. Meanwhile, as forward-thinking companies are jumping on the chance to study its blockchain technology, the price has been spiking as a result. Bitcoin.com got a chance to speak with Ethereum founder, Vitalik Buterin, about what the current price bull run means for the project, the significance of Microsoft’s support, consensus building, and plans for the year ahead.
“Quite a few [companies are trialling Ethereum] ranging from energy companies to banks and banking consortiums in different countries to hardware companies.”
Bitcoin.com (BC): First, congratulations on reaching the Homestead phase. How does this release fit in with the wider scope of Ethereum moving forward? Also, does this mean that the platform is now “safe” to use?
Vitalik Buterin (VB): Homestead the second of the six phases of the Ethereum rollout that we currently have planned, the remaining phases being Metropolis (Mist release), Serenity (proof of stake Casper plus abstraction, aka Ethereum 1.5), and the yet unnamed Ethereum 2.0 and Ethereum 3.0 that will focus on scalability.
Yes, the “Homestead” brand is intended to show that the risk of using the Ethereum platform is now substantially reduced from what it was during the initial launch phase.
BC: BlockApps STRATO was just certified on Microsoft’s Azure BaaS platform with the director of blockchain strategy at Microsoft calling this a “watershed moment.” Do you agree and to what degree has Miscrosoft’s involvement boosted your project?
VB: Microsoft’s project has definitely helped lend both Ethereum and Consensys/BlockApps credibility, although I think that in general big company endorsements are a bit overrated in many cases: you have to remember that even though a big company may be 100x more impressive than a small company, they also have 100x more resources to throw at every project that they think is remotely promising. That said, the fact that Microsoft seems to be focusing on Ethereum platforms first is significant.
Microsoft’s project has definitely helped lend both Ethereum and Consensys/BlockApps credibility.
BC: Do you think this will speed up development of Ethereum-compliant blockchain applications for enterprises and attract additional interest and funding?
VB: Quite possibly; there are many businesses that are looking for an easy road into Ethereum with hand-holding and if BlockApps+BaaS provides that then great. That said, there are also other platforms that are trying to do the same thing and I am looking forward to seeing all of them roll out.
BC: You recently revealed that the Ethereum Foundation can be self-sufficient for 4.5 years given the current upward momentum in Ether price. Is there a spot price at which development could take off at full speed, i.e. all of your plans can be successfully funded?
VB: We’ve been discussing this somewhat internally, and it seems likely that realizing our full vision to the maximum level of quality would take a budget of around $20-50m [USD].
We are also in the process of cashing out ~$2m to fiat to give ourselves a safety cushion in case funding sources become unavailable.
Whether those funds come from Ether, a highly successful membership program, angel donations or other sources (or a combination of the above) is not yet clear, and we are of course definitely not counting on that level of success in our fundraising efforts; we will of course always try to do the best that we can with what we have. We are also in the process of cashing out ~$2m to fiat so as to give ourselves a safety cushion in case funding sources become unavailable.
BC: Does the increase in the price of ETH increase your sovereignty, i.e. the ability to self-fund projects and thus not be dependent on other sources?
VB: Yes, it does.
BC: When will the issuance of Ether taper off?
VB: We are planning a proof of stake switch early next year, which will greatly reduce issuance, likely to 0-2m per year.
BC: Do you know approximately how many companies are trialling Ethereum right now?
VB: Quite a few, ranging from energy companies to banks and banking consortiums in different countries (and other financial institutions) to hardware companies.
BC: Coinbase co-founder Fred Ersham recently tweeted a question that I would like to direct at you: “What’s the most interesting live & working Ethereum app you have used?”
VB: If we restrict to live and working, I’d have to say Gnosis.
BC: Have you seen a use-case for the platform that you did not expect?
VB: Virtual worlds, IoT.
BC: Following the Frontier release, your team has solved two consensus bugs. How does this consensus mechanism work? Could the Bitcoin community learn a thing or two from this approach?
VB: Perhaps the most important difference in our approach is that there is no concept of a “reference client.” If two clients disagree, we look at the difference, and we see which one looked more like intended behavior (using a combination of the yellow paper and plain common sense) and which one looked more like a bug. The one that looked more like a bug gets fixed.
I think the Core vs Classic / block size debate would have looked very different had there been four different Bitcoin implementations with substantial market share.
The notion that there are multiple clients is enshrined in the philosophy, and we even encourage institutional developers and exchanges using the public chain to run two different clients for added safety. This helps reduce developer centralization risk; I think the Core vs. Classic / block size debate would have looked very different had there been four different Bitcoin implementations with substantial market share.
BC: Will the addition of IOTA to Azure impact the overall Ethereum consensus mechanism?
VB: Not sure, I looked at IOTA and the block weave consensus algorithm looks interesting, but I haven’t explored it too deeply.
BC: What else can we expect from the Ethereum team in 2016 and what are you most excited about?
VB: We have a rather detailed roadmap specced out, and I’d prefer not to copy it down here as I’ll be writing a blog post about it soon after Serenity PoC2 is released, but suffice it to say there’s a lot of interesting stuff that will be coming out. Casper and integration of advanced crypto are likely to be the two key focuses on the research side, on the dev side I would say light clients and Mist.
What are your thoughts on Ethereum? Will it be the cornerstone of the nascent blockchain industry? Let us know in the comments section below!
Images courtesy of Ethereum.org, Microsoft