Ethereum’s co-founder, Vitalik Buterin, has called for a revival of the original “cypherpunk” ethos that inspired the blockchain’s creation, emphasizing the need to shift focus from the network’s financial aspects back to its foundational principles.
In a blog post dated Dec. 28, Buterin reflected on Ethereum’s journey. He noted that the platform, initially conceived as a “public decentralized shared hard drive” with an emphasis on peer-to-peer messaging and decentralized storage, started to lose sight of its original vision around 2017 due to an increased focus on financialization.
Buterin is advocating for a resurgence of core cypherpunk values within Ethereum. These include decentralization, open participation, censorship resistance, and credible neutrality. He expressed optimism about the potential for non-financial applications to thrive on the blockchain, citing advancements in technologies such as rollups, zero-knowledge proofs, account abstraction, and second-generation privacy solutions as key enablers.
The term “cypherpunk” refers to individuals who employ encryption to maintain privacy and security on computer networks, especially against governmental surveillance.
Buterin envisions Ethereum as a platform for activities aligned with cypherpunk ideals. These include anonymous participation in polls, the use of novel voting mechanisms like quadratic voting, and cross-tribal consensus building for organizational governance.
However, Buterin acknowledges the challenges in maintaining these values, especially in the face of tendencies towards centralization and deviation from decentralized ideals. He pointed out the risks of creating highly centralized layers, non-fungible token (NFT) ecosystems reliant on centralized storage, or staking interfaces that unduly favor the largest pools. Such developments, he warns, could diminish the unique value of the crypto ecosystem and lead to a replication of existing web2 inefficiencies.
Despite these concerns, Buterin commended the ingenuity within the crypto space in addressing significant challenges. He highlighted the emergence of decentralized exchanges as a counter to centralized exchange hacks and mentioned platforms like Cowswap, Flashbots Protect, and MEV Blocker for mitigating the impact of sandwich attacks and exploitations by maximum extractable value (MEV) actors.
Buterin’s call for a cypherpunk renaissance in Ethereum coincides with his recent proposal to simplify the network’s proof-of-stake system by reducing validator signature requirements, further underscoring his commitment to streamlining and securing the Ethereum blockchain.