Crypto-portrait: Vitalik Buterin, the crypto geek idealist

Or how Vitalik Buterin, a brilliant Russian-Canadian, revolutionized crypto after an accident in World of Warcraft.

“Did he at least eat breakfast?” » When the American magazine Time made its front page with Vitalik Buterin, angry Internet users could not stop the bad comments. It is true that the pale “prince of crypto”, as Time dubs it, seems like a breathless form. And yet, we all owe a lot to this elf-faced, blue-eyed geek.

Vitalik Buterin is actually at the origin of the Ethereum protocol. It can now be one of the basic building blocks of the world of crypto-currencies. “If this is not the world computer that he mentioned at the beginning, a perhaps provocative announcement, this programmable blockchain that can make conditional transactions is actually an important innovation”analyzed Renaud Lifchitz, a French crypto expert.

The creator of the world’s first blockchain, in terms of activity, “often described as extraterrestrial”, agrees his biographer, Laura Shin, in her book The Cryptopians. This is a “walking computer”, sums up one of his relatives, Vlad Zamfir. When Vitalik Buterin poses, for photos, we often see him with his arms hanging down. Adidas basketball on his feet, the young man of 28 years wearing Uniqlo. And he likes to wear t-shirts with unicorns and rainbows.

Vitalik Buterin. // Source: Wikimedia Commons

A gifted child

For Vitalik Buterin, it all started in 1994 in Kolomna, one hundred kilometers from Moscow. But he did not stay long in Russia. At the age of six, his parents decided to emigrate to Canada, the boy arrived in Toronto. He is not a man like the others. As Laura Shin said, the child is very simple. About three or four years old, his grandfather “taught him the multiplication tables”he remembered.

At the same age, he learned about computers. He then turned to his masterpiece, an encyclopedia of rabbits written in Excel and completed when he was seven years old. It was also, until the age of nine, a loner who spoke little. “I was worried, until I realized that”remembers his father, Dmitry. “He is like a seed blown by the wind, struggling to take root, but about to find the right soil to grow and flourish”summarizes Laura Shin.

The horror of centralized service

This favorable ground is the blockchain. The young man’s convictions were first revealed in an incident of World of Warcraft. While he is an avid player of this online role-playing game, an update weakens one of his spells. “I cried myself to sleep that day and realized the horrors that a centralized service can do”he remembered.

Then his father suggested that he has an interest in Bitcoin, this crypto-currency that precisely wants to create a decentralized financial system. Love at first sight. The student is so enthusiastic that he offers to write articles for the new publication, Bitcoin Weekly. “I can write about social taboos related to money”his details in his first message on the BitcoinTalk forum.

This allows him to sign a first article of micro-transaction. At that time, Internet users were surprised about the low wages offered. But in hindsight, this is the highest paid freelancer in history. The young man got five bitcoins, then equivalent to four dollars, now about 110,000 euros. Immediately spent on a t-shirt I Use Coins » stamped with the bitcoin logo.

“The goose that laid the golden eggs”

But Vitalik Buterin, who later helped found Bitcoin Magazine while helping with cryptocurrency programming, was frustrated by Bitcoin’s limitations. He dreams of a blockchain that goes even further. It will be Ethereum. The project caused a sensation after a first confidential presentation at the end of 2013 in a white paper.

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Ethereum // Source: Ethereum Foundation

“This 19-year-old skeletal boy hovers over his laptop”, enthuses journalist Morgen Peck after the Bitcoin conference in Miami in January 2014. A shared enthusiasm. Vitalik Buterin got a $100,000 scholarship from billionaire Peter Thiel. To some of his relatives, he appears as such “the goose that laid the golden eggs”recalls computer scientist Gavin Wood, once at the origin of the Polkadot network.

But the young man full of idealism, who contributes to open source projects, does not want luck. In the spring of 2014, an unfolding battle was waged against those who dreamed of making Ethereum the future cash machine. Vitalik Buterin then push the businessmen. And true to his belief that personal management can be a weakness, he won’t put the keys to the truck. Ethereum, funded by the collection of 31,000 bitcoins, at the time of 18 million dollars, transferred to a Swiss non-profit foundation.

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Vitalik Buterin // Source: Wikimedia Commons

A respected influencer

“He is now only an influencer, although his voice carries a lot”, Renaud Lifchitz recalled. Vitalik Buterin is still followed by four million subscribers on Twitter. One who defines himself as a cuckservative, a conservative full of liberal ideas, was also a generous philanthropist. Thus he contributed to the legal defense of Julian Assange and helped in the fight against Covid-19 in India.

So we should call him “San Vitalik”like the special newsletter The Big Whale? “He is a somewhat divisive character in the community, because he is sometimes far from the economic realities of Ethereum”nuance Adli Takkal-Bataille, the president of the association Le Cercle du coin.

Vitalik Buterin 2
A portrait of Vitalik Buterin. By Dmitry Shustov // Source: Flickr

The Vial of Galadriel

While the Ethereum protocol has become essential, the blockchain is however largely imperfect. We can discuss the laborious transition, which has been postponed several times, to a more ecological operation. it “combination” now promised for September. There have also been painful times, such as its division of the blockchain after a major hack in July 2016.

This is because for Vitalik Buterin, Ethereum must first be the launching pad for important social innovations. Like a universal basic income or a fairer voting system. And be a counterweight to the authoritarian government. He has more 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 is necessary, according to him, first of all a security. Even, like the Vial of Galadriel, this thing is quoted in the trilogy Lord of the Rings, “a light for dark places, when all other lights are out. »

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