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Crypto "Has to Transform Into Something Useful" by 2032: Vitalik Buterin

Vitalik Buterin spoke at a closed press conference in Seoul today in the lead-up to EthSeoul. The Ethereum creator discussed ZK-Rollup technology, the challenges a “100% complete” Ethereum will face, and why the next few years should be the proving grounds for blockchain applications.

Crypto "Has to Transform Into Something Useful" by 2032: Vitalik Buterin
Photo: Steve Jennings/Getty Images/TechCrunch

Key Takeaways

  • Vitalik Buterin has said that blockchain applications will need to prove their utility rather than promise that they could be useful in the future in the next 10 years.
  • Buterin also said that he expects some Optimistic Rollup projects working on scaling Ethereum today will pivot to embrace ZK-Rollups because of their "fundamental advantages."
  • He added that Ethereum would need to upgrade to protect itself against quantum computing attacks in the future, but it could be a few decades until any upgrades are needed.

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Buterin has reiterated his view that ZK-Rollups are likely to be Ethereum’s top Layer 2 scaling weapon, and said that quantum computing will be an important consideration for the protocol in the future.  

Buterin on Ethereum’s Future

Vitalik Buterin is optimistic about Ethereum’s future, but he thinks there are big challenges ahead. 

The Ethereum creator discussed the protocol’s long-term future at a closed press conference ahead of EthSeoul today, focusing on scaling technology, quantum computing, and important hurdles the network faces. 

Buterin said that the next decade will be crucial for blockchain technology, arguing that applications will soon need to prove their utility in an open market. “I think the next 10 years is when crypto has to transform into something that is not based on promises of being useful in the future but is actually useful,” he said. “Because a lot of applications are promising in theory, but they’re just completely not viable because of scaling issues today.” He added that if a blockchain application fails to work once Ethereum completes its “Merge” to Proof-of-Stake and zero-knowledge proof technology takes off, there’s a good chance that it “doesn’t make sense” to use the blockchain in the first place. 

Elaborating on scaling issues Ethereum faces, Buterin expressed enthusiasm for the coming wave of Layer 2 rollup solutions, taking the stance that zero-knowledge proof-based ZK-Rollups would prevail over Optimistic Rollups as the superior, albeit tricker, technology. “In the longer term, ZK-Rollups are eventually going to beat Optimistic Rollups because they have these fundamental advantages, like not needing to have a seven-day withdrawal period,” he said, before commenting on the difficulties of building ZK-Rollups. “ZK is a technology that’s just hard to build. There’s a lot of challenges, and Optimistic Rollup technology is more mature.” Buterin clarified that he was still confident that some of today’s Optimistic Rollup projects would succeed, but expected some projects to make a pivot in the future. “They’re going to do great. But I am totally expecting that eventually, they’re going to switch to ZK at some point.”

A “Complete” Ethereum

Buterin also commented on how a “complete” Ethereum would fare in the deep future following his recent comments at EthCC in Paris, where he declared that Ethereum would be “55% complete” following the Merge. “After the big items—you know, the Merge, the Surge, the Purge, the Verge, the Splurge—Ethereum will basically be in a place where the protocol doesn’t need to change. Everything can be done at Layer 2.” 

Buterin added a caveat that Ethereum would need to account for developments in quantum computing sometime in the distant future. “We have to upgrade at some point for quantum safety,” he said, mulling a switch to “new forms of cryptography” that would be resistant to potential attacks. Crypto skeptics have frequently pointed out that quantum computing could kill off blockchains, but Buterin said that it would be a while before crypto builders need to make changes. “We’re constantly very close in touch with the AI researchers that are continuing to work on that problem and making better algorithms,” he said. “but that’s far away, and that could be 10, 20, or 30 years from now.” 

Disclosure: At the time of writing, the author of this piece owned ETH and several other cryptocurrencies. 

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