Ethereum Turns 3: The Journey So Far and the Road Ahead

Vinay Gupta (release coordinator for Ethereum, co-founder of Mattereum) with Rob Knight (co-founder of Mattereum)

July 30th 2018 marks the third anniversary of Ethereum’s launch. The past three years have been far from smooth sailing, with the price of Ether on a rollercoaster ride and the TheDAO hack leading to major soul-searching and a hard fork; at the same time blockchain has become more and more prevalent in the public consciousness, making waves with a massive surge of capital and development. We’re perhaps only now getting past the prologue of the blockchain story, where it traverses the divide between theory and practice, idea and execution, expectation and reality. The story of Mattereum and the Internet of Agreements vision is inextricably tied to the story of Ethereum. In a very broad sense, Mattereum aims to bridge the technologies of blockchain and smart contracts with the complexities and needs of the material world. Below are articles and videos which look at the story so far and lay out the challenges it will face if it is to ever reach its world-changing potential.

A Prehistory of the Ethereum Protocol by Vitalik Buterin

How it all started. In this article Vitalik reflects on the genesis of the Ethereum project and the days leading up to its launch. He provides some interesting details to how the idea coalesced, such as his original proposal to the Mastercoin team discussing a way to expand their protocol’s contract capabilities. This lead to him writing the initial Ethereum paper in December 2013 describing “the ultimate smart contract and autonomous corporation platform on the blockchain.” He provides a technical overview of how the protocol changed over time as more people provided key feedback. He covers the early testnet era, the iterative design process, and the birth of the network on July 30th 2015.

How to Sell Ideas by Vinay Gupta

Vinay gave this presentation at the first Ethereum developer conference, DevCon 0, before the network launched. While it is mostly Vinay discussing how best to communicate radical technological ideas like Ethereum to the populace, it also provides a framework for anyone to examine industry trends and pinpoint where they are at in the timeline.

The Ethereum Launch Process by Vinay Gupta

In this March 2015 post on the Ethereum blog, Vinay introduces himself as the release coordinator for the project. He provides some grounding for the current state of the technology to give a view of the long journey ahead. He then outlines the four main phases of Ethereum’s livenet development: Frontier, Homestead, Metropolis (in which we are currently in the Byzantium phase), and Serenity. This piece charted the path forward for the project, giving the developers and the community a shared map to refer to as the ecosystem expanded.

Programmable Blockchains in Context By Vinay Gupta

This article is often regarded as the launch post of the Ethereum network. Vinay gives a non-technical explanation of where the blockchain sits in the history of computer systems and provides a glimpse at the possibilities of the technology if it can reach its full potential as “a world computer.” He also assures readers that it is not SkyNet.

Dangerous Old Men: Cypherpunk’s Failure, Ethereum’s Success by Vinay Gupta

Vinay covers a lot of ground in this talk, but perhaps the key message is that movements to bring cryptosystems to the wider population have been tried before (i.e. cypherpunks) but were fundamentally limited at the technical and social level. Blockchains seem to have staying power, but the success or failure of ecosystems like Ethereum will fall on adoption which is largely inhibited by UX design, security, and identity solutions. We can learn from the past to design our future.

The Transparent Future by Vinay Gupta

This talk at the 2015 Digital conference unpacks the economics of businesses and makes a case that new models of equity crowdfunding realized by blockchain technology could provide a more democratized means of funding critical infrastructure. He closes on the topic of how we might go about funding intersectional ventures (blockchain + AI, drones + VR, etc.) which by their nature accumulate more complexity and novelty requiring a particularly well-informed investment mindset. This presages the formation of Hexayurt Capital, an VC project specializing in that particular juncture, which gave rise to Mattereum.

We Don’t Need Political Solutions to Global Trade — We Need Practical Ones by Rob Knight

In this article for the Harvard Business Review, Mattereum co-founder Rob Knight presents the Internet of Agreements as a path of technological progression where the schism between national regulation and international trade agreements can be bridged. He cites the increasing number of nation-states withdrawing from these treaties and implementing their own bilateral deals as evidence of cracks showing in the project of globalization. Artificial intelligence, automated logistics, and blockchain could be the building blocks of an Internet of Agreements facilitating the efforts of “Globalization 2.0,” where the usual politicking can be replaced with pragmatic attempts at creating systems that simply work.

Tell Me Who You Are by Vinay Gupta

Many point to the blockchain as a means to finally fix the problem of digital identity, yet the notion of identity itself is a profound philosophical conundrum. This article explores the depths of the identity problem, presenting and deconstructing various frameworks that have become embedded in the techno-social fabric of our societies over the years. You may find that the answer to the title is not so simple.

What Does $300 Ether Mean? By Vinay Gupta

This post was originally written when the price of Ether reached $100; the title was edited when it reached $300 weeks later! Vinay provides some context to the Ethereum phenomenon and describes the potential of the technology for society. He then briefly describes a new mental model, the Internet of Agreements, as a shift to a more neutral framework to describe the possibilities of blockchain in the structures of global trade.

Mortal Hazard: the DApp ecosystem, other people’s money, and the prospects for a long-term regulation-free environment by Vinay Gupta

This piece is a reflection on the TheDAO hack, which resulted in the theft of tens of millions of dollars of Ether during the largest crowdfunding event in history (at the time). More specifically, it is an examination of an ecosystem in which this can occur and what the implications are moving forward. Is it possible for the ecosystem to mature and build within it structures that can insulate newcomers from the dangers of a “meritocratic shooting gallery?”

Memorable quote: “Who’ll be the first person to crowdfund a war, or crowdsource a revolution; we will see these people, you and I.”

How Blockchain Could Help Emerging Markets Leap Ahead by Rob Knight and Vinay Gupta

This article was co-written by Mattereum’s founders to address a key subject in the entire blockchain phenomenon — will the “first world” reap the most benefits of this technology? Their thesis is that developing countries could actually adopt these technologies faster than the first world due to a lack of inertial investment in existing infrastructure — an effect known as “leapfrogging.”

Three years doesn’t seem such a long time in most contexts, but in the fast-paced, 24/7 open-source world of blockchain there are new developments every single day as teams distributed around the world build out these new systems. While Mattereum was born out of the Ethereum project, it’s goals are a direct response to it: how can we make sure that this potentially world-changing technology can actually interface with the very world it’s trying to change for the better? This will involve diving into the complexities of law and software to create the necessary bridges between the technical and material world. That is the mission. And hopefully there are many more years ahead for Ethereum and the blockchain industry.