As blockchain and cryptocurrency finally make their foray into wider public awareness, core comprehension of those technologies will begin to spread faster and farther – and the hype surrounding them will begin to crescendo.
Decentralized systems are by nature dependent upon the network they are comprised of, so when you use the technology, you become part of growing and improving that infrastructure. As Cornell University's Emin Gün Sirer told ETHNews:
"What matters, first and foremost, is a healthy community ready to evolve the underlying technology according to scientific findings, and Ethereum has that going for it in spades."
So what should the Ethereum ecosystem expect moving forward into 2018 and beyond?
Ethereum's Development Roadmap Continued
Speaking from Taipei late last November, Vitalik Buterin outlined a new development roadmap for what he calls "Ethereum 2.0."
"There isn't really a precise conception of what goes into Ethereum 2.0 and what doesn't," said the blockchain's co-founder. "Ethereum isn't a product that gets released by a company ... This is more like something that's going to end up slowly evolving over time. Even still, though, there are very major changes to Ethereum's architecture that we do expect will come over the next few years."
Buterin went on to explain, "There's generally three major categories of problems that I just keep talking about every year and the reason why I keep talking about them every year is because they are big problems and they are very important problems."
Although there is a significant amount of work to be done by the Ethereum Foundation and the ecosystem at large, many of the milestones that Ethereum is currently trying to overcome have been discussed by the Ethereum Foundation since 2015. The larger scheduled updates for Ethereum – Frontier, Homestead, Metropolis, and Serenity – serve as stepping stones to what needs to be achieved to make the platform truly viable as a next-generation internet technology.
Constantinople and Scaling
Ethereum is currently between hard forks. After successfully implementing the Byzantium half of Metropolis, the ecosystem has been awaiting Constantinople. Ethereum improvement proposals (EIPs) listed on GitHub include three "deferred EIPs," that have not yet been implemented, though it is intended that they will be. Nick Johnson, a core Ethereum Foundation developer, told ETHNews about what the ecosystem can expect regarding EIPs 86, 96, and 145. "The exact contents of Constantinople aren't yet specified, and a couple of those EIPs have kinks that need working out."
ETHNews: Do you think the Constantinople hard fork will happen sooner or later?
NJ: I think it's likely that there'll be a hard fork in 2018. It may not include all of those EIPs and may contain other improvements not yet specified.
ETHNews: Why is scaling so hard and how is the foundation planning to scale Ethereum?
NJ: The fundamental innovation of blockchains is their trustless nature – that is, it allows anyone to verify they're operating correctly – and ensures everyone agrees on the same version of events. This comes with a significant drawback: it requires every node in the network to process every transaction in order to be able to verify that they were processed correctly. This makes it impractical to scale a single blockchain beyond what a single node can process. In addition, there are other challenges – bandwidth and storage space also increase with increasing throughput.
ETHNews: What's the leading solution right now?
NJ: The most prominent of these is probably Plasma, which is a framework for building sidechains that rely on the main blockchain (such as Ethereum) for their ultimate security; this permits taking a lot of the transaction volume and moving it onto application-specific sidechains with little compromise in security or fungibility. Effectively, what it does is let you set up your own blockchain for your specific application while relying on Ethereum to secure it, and permitting interactions between the main Ethereum chain and your sidechain.
ETHNews: This sounds kind of like sharding, is there a relationship?
NJ: Research on sharding is continuing as well. While Plasma could be thought of as 'heterogeneous sidechains', sharding is 'homogenous sidechains' – effectively, creating a whole set of parallel Ethereums that run side by side and can talk to each other. As you might expect, this increases transaction throughput a lot but is also more complex than Plasma.
Casper is the initiative to switch Ethereum's consensus algorithm over from proof-of-work (PoW) to proof-of-stake (PoS). While it's true that PoW has proven to be extremely costly and wasteful of electricity, the reason Buterin gave for the move was that "it fails to realize the cypherpunk spirit – cost of attack and cost of defense are at a 1:1 ratio, so there is no defender's advantage. Proof-of-Stake breaks this symmetry by relying not on rewards for security, but rather penalties."
ETHNews spoke with Ethereum researcher and Casper expect Jon Choi to get an update about a recent trial of a hybrid PoW/PoS iteration of Casper on a testnet, which is meant to ween the mining community off of PoW. Choi told us:
"The Casper FFG testnet is a concrete milestone towards PoS in Ethereum. While this is a hybrid PoS mechanism and not pure PoS, it incorporates many of the latest learnings from the research team. It was a major accomplishment by Karl Floersch, David Knott, Chih-Cheng Liang, Chang-Wu Chen, and Vitalik. We will be working closely with the broader community to work towards implementation in major clients."
Earlier this week, new prototypes for the Casper correct-by-construction (Casper CBC) consensus protocol were released, which are designed to:
Ethereum users can contribute to is particular Casper initiative by creating a corresponding GitHub account.
Anticipation of Adoption
As Buterin recently commented, "The very first vision was basically a general purpose platform for financial contracts. If X happens then send $5 to account Y, if Z happens send $5 to account B. That was basically what I thought Ethereum would be for. Over time, as the amount of attention grew, the amount of attention also become wider.
"I do really think that blockchains' primary value is empowering people who don't have access to in part finance, in part contracting ability, in part just the ability to make other people trust them. As far as where big companies can fit in, I do think they have a role. I do think the smart ones that take the first step and are willing to play with the technology rather than against it can survive and even benefit from whole processes."
Indeed, the new director of the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance, Ron Resnick has already stated, "EEA has the critical mass of companies – both established and startup – from every region of the world, and 17 vendor-lead, industry-specific application layer working groups and committees to get the work done and increase the adoption of Ethereum technology in the enterprise."
They say it takes a village to raise a child, and Ethereum has a vibrant community of problem solvers who are coming together to push the platform forward. Plasma and the other proposals being explored for Constantinople, as well as the promise of utilizing Casper to realize the benefits of PoS consensus, are poised to launch this blockchain toward mass adoption by individuals and enterprises alike. Here's to another year of growth and many more to come.