Ethereum Founder Vitalik Buterin Touts Essay Collection in ETHDenver Talk

Ethereum’s co-founder and figurehead continues his transition to a public intellectual role.

AccessTimeIconFeb 17, 2022 at 7:22 p.m. UTC
Updated May 11, 2023 at 4:47 p.m. UTC

At the opening keynote of the Schelling Point ETHDenver mini-conference on Thursday, Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin signaled his ongoing transition to a role as a public intellectual, announcing a forthcoming book and lecturing on developmental theories in different technological fields.

In a talk titled “The e-theory-um blockchain,” Buterin discussed the intellectual underpinnings that drive blockchain development.

Touching on a 2019 lecture from Peter Thiel that argued “crypto is libertarian, AI [artificial intelligence] is communist,” Buterin argued that the dichotomy is “oversimplified” but can be used as a rubric for discussing what drives crypto’s ongoing progress.

Instead of discussing the technology on its hypothetical political properties, the focus could instead be on the “intellectual properties” of the tech, he argued: in this case, the difference between what he categorized as “theory” and “empiricism.”

The talk was inspired by a recent Twitter thread from the 28-year-old developer, which riffed on an emerging meme pitting “wordcels” against “shape rotators” – loosely, terms for different types of cognitive proficiencies, with wordcels favoring theory and language and shape rotators embracing empiricism and math.

In the talk, Buterin argued that while crypto development is driven by mathematical and social theories, tech fields like AI instead rely on empirical testing.

Innovations such as private-key cryptography, for instance, didn’t result from taking AI agents and modeling attack vectors over and over; instead, it arose from creating hard mathematical theories to generate security guarantees, Buterin said.

Theory is often viewed with suspicion, he said, because the math-based guarantees can turn out to be wrong and therefore catastrophic; a consensus mechanism failing could wipe the value from a blockchain completely.

“Crypto, specifically, because of its decentralization, is decidedly on the theory side,” Buterin concluded, arguing that emergent technology that impacts social structures, such as crypto, could nonetheless benefit from theory-based development.

Book drop

As he was exiting the stage the technologist also announced a book: “Vitalik Buterin: Proof of Stake,” a collection of essays.

In recent years Vitalik has stepped away from active development of Ethereum, but has been a prolific writer, addressing topics such as cross-chain interoperability and the need for artificial wombs, among other topics.

The book will be published on September 13, 2022 by independent publisher Seven Stories Press, a Seven Stories representative told CoinDesk.


Please note that our privacy policy, terms of use, cookies, and do not sell my personal information has been updated.

CoinDesk is an award-winning media outlet that covers the cryptocurrency industry. Its journalists abide by a strict set of editorial policies. In November 2023, CoinDesk was acquired by the Bullish group, owner of Bullish, a regulated, digital assets exchange. The Bullish group is majority-owned by; both companies have interests in a variety of blockchain and digital asset businesses and significant holdings of digital assets, including bitcoin. CoinDesk operates as an independent subsidiary with an editorial committee to protect journalistic independence. CoinDesk employees, including journalists, may receive options in the Bullish group as part of their compensation.

Andrew Thurman

Andrew Thurman was a tech reporter at CoinDesk with a focus on DeFi.