Given the level of concern that I inspired in some members of the Ethereum community and an explicit request for a longer form explanation, I feel like I owe you one. So lets get to it.
But first, let me thank everyone who reached out with words of support!
It means a lot! Thank you!
Here’s the tweet in question, in case you missed it:
Rather than leading with clarification and nuance, let me start on a more personal note.
I am generally quite stressed, these days. I have a lot on my plate, and I often feel like I don’t have the basic life skills required to handle it. I’m doing challenging research on a rather demanding timeline. I travel a lot, going to lots of conferences, meetups, and having lots of informal meetings. I try to do lots of education and outreach in an effort to push cryptoeconomic research. I’m engaged in “the cryptocurrency culture wars”, advocating for hard forks over soft forks, for extra-protocol governance over in-protocol governance, for proof-of-stake over proof-of-work, and for sharding as the only true blockchain scaling solution. I’m super concerned about the sorry state of ethics in the blockchain community, and I’m (literally) scared half to death about the intended and unintended consequences of tools that will be built using blockchain technology. I don’t do enough writing, and most of the writing that I do do ends up being unpublished. I have lots of pet projects, and I have a lot of personal problems that I’d rather not get into. In any case, I behave like a child and spend lots of time stressing myself out rather than making my way through my workload. But I’m working on all of these things — so don’t worry about me!
I don’t say all this because I want your sympathy — I don’t — I’m incredibly lucky to be living the crypto lyfe. I’m extremely thankful for all the support I’ve received from the cryptocurrency community in the last 2–3 years (from close friends, colleagues, academics, random strangers, Vitalik, Greg Meredith, from the Ethereum Foundation). So don’t feel sorry for me — I have it really, really good.
I say it because I want you to understand where I’m coming from when I react to feeling euphoria in the Ethereum community. I felt euphoria for about the first 8–12 months of becoming involved in Ethereum— I am not feeling any euphoria anymore. I am mostly filled with concern about how everything could go horribly wrong, with feelings of being overwhelmed, with being unable to keep up with everything that I feel requires my attention.
When the community gets bigger, when the price of ether goes up, when more people rely on Ethereum in the enterprise, when more people intend to deploy decentralized applications on Ethereum proper, the load does not get lighter — it gets heavier. While you are feeling growing euphoria because you think Ethereum is definitely the best blockchain around, I am feeling more concerned and more stressed.
Blockchains are not toys. They aren’t get rich quick schemes. They aren’t a shiny tool for automating your business processes. They are powerful technology that have the potential to do unspeakable harm. But they can also provide the basis for solutions to serious global problems.
When I shit on your parade, it’s not because I’m not excited about the technology. It’s not because I don’t care about all the work we’re doing. It’s not because I’m not optimistic about the future of Ethereum. It’s because it really bothers me to perceive that you are engaged in a circlejerk while I feel like I have the world on my shoulders (which btw includes your circlejerk).
Do I need to feel this way? Probably not. Do I need help? I probably do. Am I organized enough to receive your help? Probably not. I’ll appreciate it if you reach out in support, but I likely won’t be able to help you help me. I am also working on that, though.
I didn’t make that tweet because Ethereum isn’t safe or scalable, really, I did it because I find the current level of euphoria quite offensive. Maybe it isn’t my place to keep euphoria in check. Maybe it is. I don’t know. But I will probably continue to express myself by turning my feelings into radical, unnuanced tweets nonetheless.
Is Ethereum safe? I don’t think so. I absolutely cannot guarantee that the network won’t be 51% attacked (though I would like to believe that a hard fork would minimize damage from such an attack). I cannot usually guarantee that a smart contract will behave as expected (I don’t need to mention that I sometimes like hard forks here, too, do I?). But lots of really smart people in the community are working hard towards making Ethereum safe, with smart contract formal verification efforts and with proof-of-stake consensus protocol research. I think that we will continue to make steady and impressive progress on these safety problems.
Is Ethereum scalable? I don’t think so. While miners can increase the gaslimit without changing the protocol, the blockchain is still single threaded. State channels can potentially provide a large constant factor improvement in the short term, but they have their own security problems (to use Vitalik’s language, “channels turn a blockchain’s liveness failures into safety failures"). Sharding promises to do much better, but is likely still a ways off. Still, I think that we will continue to make steady and impressive progress on the blockchain scaling.
So, I really don’t think Ethereum is safe or scalable. But I am optimistic that it will get better. Granted that all blockchains suck. Is Ethereum at least more safe or scalable than other blockchains? Maybe. But that is a nuanced discussion that won’t fit in this margin.
Also — sorry about the lack of relevant links in this blog!