Vitalik Buterin: Ethereum, Cryptocurrency, and the Future of Money | Lex Fridman Podcast #80 | Summary and Q&A

March 16, 2020
Lex Fridman Podcast
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Vitalik Buterin: Ethereum, Cryptocurrency, and the Future of Money | Lex Fridman Podcast #80


Vitalik Buterin discusses the origin story of Ethereum, including the challenges faced in its development and the future goals of Ethereum 2.0.

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Key Insights

  • 🧠 Ethereum has introduced interesting technical ideas that are shaping the future of blockchain technology, and Vitalik Buterin is a key innovator in this space.
  • 🔍 Bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto remains anonymous, while Vitalik Buterin is a well-known figure in the cryptocurrency world.
  • 💡 Masterclass and ExpressVPN are sponsors of the podcast being discussed.
  • 💰 Money serves as a game, a way to store wealth, exchange value, and denominate future payments.
  • 📚 Vitalik Buterin recommends picking three courses on Masterclass and watching them fully.
  • 💻 ExpressVPN allows users to protect their privacy and access regional versions of streaming websites.
  • 💭 Humans have a fundamentally different quality when interacting over the internet compared to in-person interactions.
  • 🔍 Consensus is key in blockchain technology, and the Byzantine generals problem was solved by Satoshi Nakamoto with the invention of Bitcoin.


the following is a conversation with vitalik buterin co-creator of and author of the white paper the launched ethereum and ether which is a cryptocurrency that is currently the second largest digital currency after bitcoin ethereum has a lot of interesting technical ideas that are defining the future of blockchain technology and vitalik is one of t... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: What were the challenges faced during the development of Ethereum?

The development of Ethereum faced challenges such as governance crises and technical complexities. The team had to overcome infighting, conflicting interests, and the need to restructure leadership. Additionally, there were technical hurdles to overcome, including implementing proof-of-stake and sharding.

Q: Why did Vitalik Buterin decide to develop Ethereum instead of continuing to work on Bitcoin?

Vitalik Buterin saw the potential of a generalized blockchain platform beyond Bitcoin. He believed that smart contracts, which allow for programmable transactions, could revolutionize various industries and create new applications. By developing Ethereum, he could realize this vision and address the limitations he saw in Bitcoin.

Q: What is the significance of Ethereum 2.0?

Ethereum 2.0 is a major upgrade that aims to address scalability and energy efficiency issues. It introduces proof-of-stake consensus, which reduces the environmental impact compared to the energy-intensive proof-of-work mechanism. Additionally, sharding allows for parallel processing of transactions, improving scalability and network performance.

Q: How is Ethereum governed?

Ethereum has a decentralized governance model, with multiple independent teams responsible for implementing the protocol updates. The Ethereum Foundation does research in-house, but the actual development is carried out by independent teams located around the world. Governance decisions are made through deliberation and community consensus, with proposals being discussed and voted on by stakeholders.


In this interview, Vitalik Buterin, co-creator of Ethereum and author of the white paper that launched it, discusses the origins of Bitcoin and the mystery of Satoshi Nakamoto. He explains the benefits of remaining anonymous as a creator and the burden of being the face of Ethereum. Buterin also shares his thoughts on the nature of money, its role in human motivation, and the economic philosophies surrounding it. He delves into the concept of consensus in blockchain technology and the fault tolerance mechanisms in place. Buterin also provides insights into the use of proof-of-work and the blockchain data structure. He touches on topics such as quantum computing and its potential impact on cryptography.

Questions & Answers

Q: Who is Satoshi Nakamoto and what did he invent?

Satoshi Nakamoto is the anonymous person who created Bitcoin. He published the Bitcoin white paper and released the original source code for Bitcoin. Nakamoto interacted with the early Bitcoin community before disappearing in 2010. He invented Bitcoin as a decentralized digital currency.

Q: How did Satoshi Nakamoto manage to remain anonymous?

Satoshi Nakamoto's anonymity is due to his online presence and communication solely through the internet. He never revealed his true identity and disappeared in 2010, leaving only the project behind.

Q: What is the significance of money not being backed by anything physical?

The idea that money can exist without being backed by something physical is fascinating. It reflects the changing nature of valuable things in the 21st century. The value of certain assets, like tech companies, is not based on physical assets but rather network effects and coordination problems.

Q: What is the role of money in human motivation?

Money is a significant motivator, although it is not the only one. It is a universal motivator, as people are generally more inclined to do something if they are offered money. However, other motivators, such as social status and power, also play a role in human behavior.

Q: What is the concept of utopia from an economic perspective?

Utopia, from an economic perspective, would involve aligning incentives, minimizing conflicts between personal goals and the common good. However, existing economic philosophies often deviate from this utopian ideal.

Q: What is the Byzantine Generals Problem, and how does it relate to blockchain technology?

The Byzantine Generals Problem is a thought experiment that presents the challenge of coordinating actions between multiple parties facing communication limitations and potential traitors. It is relevant to blockchain technology as it highlights the need for consensus among decentralized participants.

Q: What is the blockchain, and why is it significant?

The blockchain is a data structure used in decentralized systems, particularly in cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. It consists of a chain of blocks, where each block contains a list of transactions and a reference to the previous block. The blockchain enables fault tolerance and the creation of a virtual computer composed of multiple network nodes.

Q: How difficult is it to compromise the blockchain system?

Compromising the blockchain system depends on the percentage of malicious participants holding computational power. Once the percentage of malicious participants exceeds around 23.2%, the system becomes susceptible to attacks. When the percentage goes above 50%, the system can be entirely broken.

Q: What is the role of proof-of-work in the blockchain system?

Proof-of-work involves solving a difficult mathematical puzzle to gain an identity within the blockchain network. It serves as a mechanism to limit the number of identities one can acquire. In Bitcoin, specialized hardware called ASICs is used to solve these mathematical puzzles.

Q: How does quantum computing impact blockchain and cryptography?

Quantum computing presents challenges to certain cryptographic algorithms. Shor's algorithm, for example, can break encryption based on factoring large numbers. However, there are already quantum-proof alternatives available. Grover's algorithm could potentially affect mining by making it faster, but the impact is still uncertain.


Vitalik Buterin's insights provide a deeper understanding of the origins and concepts behind blockchain technology and cryptocurrency. The mystery of Satoshi Nakamoto's identity adds an intriguing element to the discussion. Money's role as a motivator and its connection to power and social status highlight its complexity. The blockchain's fault tolerance and consensus mechanisms, such as proof-of-work, play vital roles in maintaining the integrity of the system. The advent of quantum computing presents both challenges and opportunities for cryptography and the future of blockchain technology.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Vitalik Buterin joined the Bitcoin community in 2011 and began writing for Bitcoin-related publications.

  • He came up with the idea of Ethereum while working with other teams on Bitcoin 2.0 projects.

  • He realized the potential of a generalized blockchain platform and started developing Ethereum with a focus on smart contracts.

  • The development of Ethereum faced challenges, including governance crises and technical complexities.

  • Ethereum 2.0 aims to implement proof-of-stake and sharding to improve scalability and energy efficiency.

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