Crypto-portrait: Vitalik Buterin, crypto geek idealist
Or how Vitalik Buterin, a gifted Russian-Canadian, revolutionized cryptogram after an accident in World of Warcraft.
“Is it breakfast at least?” » When the American magazine Time appeared on the front page with Vitalik Buterin, outraged netizens could not help but slide into vicious comments. It is true that it fades “prince crypto”, as Time calls it, doesn’t seem to breathe form. And yet, we all owe a lot to this elfin, blue-eyed nerd.
Vitalik Buterin is indeed the source of the Ethereum protocol. Be one of the building blocks of the cryptocurrency world today. “If it didn’t become the world computer he talked about at the beginning, perhaps a provocative announcement, this programmable blockchain capable of performing conditional transactions was indeed an important innovation”analyzes Renaud Lifchitz, a French crypto expert.
Creator of the world’s first blockchain, in terms of activity, “often described as an alien”, admits his biographer, Laura Shin, in her book The Cryptopians. It is “walking computer”, summarizes one of his relatives, Vlad Zamfir. When Vitalik Buterin strikes a pose, we often see him hanging his arms in the photos. Adidas basketball on his feet, a 28-year-old man dresses in Uniqlo. And he likes to wear t-shirts with unicorns and rainbows.
A gifted child
For Vitalik Buterin, it all started in 1994 in Kolomna, a hundred kilometers from Moscow. But he does not stay long in Russia. At the age of six, since his parents decided to emigrate to Canada, the child arrived in Toronto. He is not a boy like the others. As Laura Shin says, the child is simply gifted. About three or four years, his grandfather “teach him the times table”she recalls.
He discovered the computer at the same age. He then tackled his masterpiece, an encyclopedia about rabbits written in Excel and completed when he was seven. He is also, until the age of nine, a loner who speaks little. “It worried me until I realized it was”his father recalls, Dmitry. “He was like a seed blown by the wind, struggling to take root, but just finding the right soil to grow and blossom”Laura Shin summarizes.
The horror of centralized services
This fertile ground is the blockchain. The young man’s convictions are revealed first by an incident in World of Warcraft. Although he is an avid player of this online role-playing game, the update undermines one of his spells. “I cried myself to sleep that day and realized the horrors that centralized services can bring”he recalls.
Then his father suggested that he get interested in Bitcoin, this cryptocurrency that wants to create a decentralized financial system. It’s love at first sight. The student is so passionate that he offers to write articles for a new publication, Bitcoin Weekly. “I could write about social taboos related to money”describes in his first post on the BitcoinTalk forum.
This allows him to sign the first article on micro-transactions. At the time, netizens were ironic about the low fee offered. But in retrospect, it’s probably the highest paid freelancer in history. The young man earns five bitcoins, then four dollars, today around 110,000 euros. Instantly spent in a shirt ” I use coins » printed with the bitcoin logo.
“The goose that lays the golden eggs”
But Vitalik Buterin, who later helped found Bitcoin Magazine while helping to program cryptocurrencies, was frustrated by Bitcoin’s limitations. He dreams of a blockchain that will go even further. It will be Ethereum. The project caused a sensation after the first confidential presentation at the end of 2013 in a white paper.
“This 19-year-old skeletal boy hovered over his laptop”, enthuses journalist Morgen Peck after the Miami Bitcoin Conference in January 2014. Shared enthusiasm. Vitalik Buterin receives a $100,000 scholarship from billionaire Peter Thiel. For some of his relatives he is then considered “the goose that lays the golden eggs”recalls computer scientist Gavin Wood, then at the start of the Polkadot network.
But the young man steeped in idealism, who contributes to open source projects, does not aspire to it wealth. In the spring of 2014, the battle unfolded against those who dream of making Ethereum the future ATM. Vitalik Buterin will then push out the businessmen. And true to his belief that personal management would be a weakness, he does not keep the keys to the truck. Ethereum, funded by raising 31,000 bitcoins, $18 million at the time, is moving to a Swiss non-profit foundation.
“He’s just an influencer now, although his voice carries a lot”, recalls Renaud Lifchitz. Vitalika Buterina is still followed by four million subscribers on Twitter. One who defines himself as a cuckservative, a conservative steeped in liberal ideas, is also a generous philanthropist. Thus, he contributed to the legal defense Julian Assange and helped fight Covid-19 in India.
So let’s call him “Saint Vitalik”as a specialized newsletter Big Whale? “It is quite divided in the community, because sometimes it is quite far from the economic reality of Ethereum”shade Adli Takkal-Bataille, president of the Le Cercle du coin association.
Bottle of Galadriel
If the Ethereum protocol has become essential, the blockchain is still largely imperfect. We can state the laborious transition, many times delayed, to a much more ecological operation. This “merge” is now promised for September. There have also been painful moments, such as this rift in the blockchain after a major hack in July 2016.
That’s because for Vitalik Buterin, Ethereum must first be a launch pad for important social innovations. Like a universal basic income or a fairer voting system. And to be a counterweight to authoritarian governments. He has moreover critical on a personal level, the Russian invasion of Ukraine or the mass surveillance of Internet giants.
“Crypto has significant dystopian potential if poorly implemented”, he reminded Time last spring. While it must be, according to him, the first security. Or, like the bottle of Galadriel, this item cited in the trilogy Lord of the Rings, “a light for dark places, when all other lights go out. »