May 27, 2022
Nearly a decade ago, Ethereum Co-Founder Vitalik Buterin started Ethereum, a chain which ambitiously tried to take Bitcoin’s promise of decentralization and disintermediated money to the next level. We now have the luxury of saying that it worked, and through it — many great things were made: Buterin’s creation ushered in a golden age for crypto, cementing it as an industry. And, in recent years, that industry has brought about the advent of mainstream dapps, DeFi, NFTs, DAOs, and the burgeoning space of web3.
However, in a new TIME Magazine feature, one of crypto’s most influential men concedes that he’s skeptical about its future. Buterin said that “Crypto itself has a lot of dystopian potential if implemented wrong,” while commenting about the space (and how it has come of age in the nine years since Ethereum launched.)
Buterin cites crypto’s outsized impact on the environment, its use as a tax evasion and money laundering vehicle, and its use by scammers and thieves. He also reflected on the excessive displays of wealth afflicting public perception of crypto, referring to high-profile NFT projects like the Bored Ape Yacht Club as “a different kind of gambling.”
On the whole, Buterin’s concerns might be one of the highest-profile warnings that blockchain’s potential for good might be overshadowed by bad PR — and there’s plenty to be concerned about beyond the evils of exploiting crypto for financial purposes. Among them are enterprising and opportunistic “financial zealots”, hyper commodification and the emergence of artificially scarce goods, and the god-awful transaction fees.
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While it’s true that Buterin and team will look to solve some of these issues with the forthcoming Eth2 rollout, Buterin’s high hopes for Ethereum to blossom into a launchpad for public goods like “fairer voting systems, urban planning, universal basic income, and public-works projects” might take a backseat to financial greed.
“If we don’t exercise our voice, the only things that get built are the things that are immediately profitable … and those are often far from what’s actually best for the world.”
Instead of being a proving ground for seeing who can make the most money the fastest, Buterin hopes that it will build something which “accomplish[es] meaningful effects in the real world,” citing the impact that crypto has had in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.
However, it might be fair to say that the cat is out of the bag with crypto — and Ethereum, for that matter. Whether the masses will heed Buterin’s warning and collectively try to avoid this crypto-contrived “dystopia” has yet to be seen.