Ethereum: The great handshake


Handshake of Black and white teens shaking hands, against blue background, closeup
Image Credits: Prostock Studio (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Ashley Tolbert


Ashley Tolbert is an information security researcher and engineer.

Ethereum is the world’s most popular digital contract compiler, maintained by many but owned by none. Perhaps one of the most interesting factors behind its popularization is the future it paints — one that transforms our current internet standards for ownership, value creation and, most importantly, privacy.

A transformed future?

Not only can apps be written on top of Ethereum, but it allows any digital thing — a picture, a music file, a video, your mom’s favorite pumpkin pie recipe — to be uniquely owned, traded and stored for value, among many other possibilities that are created daily.

While many have predicted the future of the internet to be layered in bundles and levels of protection, it turns out that, paraphrasing Tim Berners-Lee, making the underlying technologies accessible to everyone supercharges its adoption and usefulness.

Ethereum and the emergence of Web 3.0 paint a shifting picture — an internet not just private, but open and transparent by default.

A brief history

In 2013, Vitalik Buterin conceived the idea of Ethereum, which would be developed and deployed two years later. The platform was built to allow anyone in the world with access to the internet to write permanent applications (known as decentralized apps or dApps) upon it, which anyone else can interact with but cannot change — basically open source software with integrity to the nth degree. The bread and butter of these apps are called smart contracts — a digital contract or intermediary.

Translated, that means financial and legal services no longer require a middleman. Ethereum basically substitutes an escrow agent, a notary, a bank teller who checks your ID, or a mortgage originator for an instant, digital transaction.

This invaluable function makes Ethereum one of the most recognized cryptocurrencies and blockchains in existence, with many contenders trailing. Bitcoin prices recently hit an all-time high, and the hype surrounding Ethereum remains in full swing.

Web 3.0, an associated concept, is an imagined future internet that uses these peer-to-peer blockchains to allow users to interact with data, value stores, entities, etc., all without a middleman.

Ethereum today

As Ethereum becomes an underlying infrastructure for legal cases, financial deals, binding agreements and more, understanding its weaknesses and strengths will become a fundamental trait of property ownership and transfer.

Updating Stephen Hawking’s words on how “basic computer programming is an essential skill to learn,” understanding the fundamentals of smart contracts such as those on Ethereum will become a basic legal and financial skill.

Today, the most booming applications on Ethereum are NFTs — non-fungible tokens. While NFTs are relatively new, they’re catching on with consumers, artists and investors not only as a store of value but as an assertion of digital, unique ownership.

NFTs allow anything digital (any file) to be owned and traded on the internet because it can’t be manipulated, changed or copied – it’s non-fungible. Any social media hubbub surrounding Apes, Kittys or Punks are all in relation to the burgeoning fan-favorite phenomenon of luxury digital art.

We predict that one use case for this technology will be in interplanetary mining, as companies based on Earth will need to buy and sell mineral rights in asteroids that few if any of their human employees have ever actually visited or seen themselves.

Other predictions for use cases are mortgage lending, property purchasing, event ticketing, music festivals, file storage and gaming — Axie Infinity, for example, is a testament to how players can make a decent living in an NFT-based gaming world.

The possibilities are endless and are being thought up by the curious and energized community more and more every day.

Challenges and Ethereum of tomorrow

As regulation catches up to the power of this underlying technology, many wonder if we’ll see attempts to control it. Much like the years-long debate in the Crypto Wars, which entailed requests to compromise or break encryption, changes to the assertions of Ethereum’s immutability could compromise its main valuable characteristic: its permanent integrity.

There may be a potential conflict between Ethereum’s immutability and its widespread adoption. It might mean that financial regulators will attempt to take some form of ownership or control over its deployment. We would be curious as to how those potential future regulators would answer the question: How can a widely connected sphere of nodes be cautiously governed while not compromising its true value — decentralization itself?

Other challenges and limitations the technology is likely to face are performance sustainability — fees to build on top of Ethereum called gas fees have gone up in recent years and the platform is known to be slowing in processing time. Ethereum 2.0 is anticipated to smooth inefficiencies, but how do we continue to maintain speed in a blockchain optimized for storing and computing each and every transaction?

Security also remains a challenge, with known Ethereum vulnerabilities existing though not widely exploited. Poly Network reported a hack this year that resulted from a “vulnerability between contract calls.”

Smart contracts are intricate and complex functions to write, so they require in-depth auditing before being deployed to a network. Ethereum security is also built on passwordless, asymmetric cryptography. It’s entirely possible that quantum computing will eventually disrupt our asymmetric cryptography standards.

We’re interested in how Ethereum and blockchains can be sustained, and we’re HODLing all the way through. Into the metaverse and beyond ….

The views expressed here are those of Ashley Tolbert and Tarah Wheeler and not the views of their affiliations.

More TechCrunch

Some startups choose to bootstrap from the beginning while others find themselves forced into self funding by a lack of investor interest or a business model that doesn’t fit traditional…

VCs wanted FarmboxRx to become a meal kit, the company bootstrapped instead

Uber and Lyft drivers in Minnesota will see higher pay thanks to a deal between the state and the country’s two largest ride-hailing companies. The upshot: a new law that…

Uber and Lyft’s ride-hailing deal with Minnesota comes with a cost

Andreessen Horowitz’s American Dynamism fund has established a new fellowship program aimed at introducing top engineers and technologists to venture investing, a move that could help the firm less obvious…

a16z’s American Dynamism team launches program to introduce technical minds to VC

Another fintech startup, and its customers, has been gravely impacted by the implosion of banking-as-a-service startup Synapse. Copper Banking, a digital banking service aimed at teens, notified its customers on…

Teen fintech Copper had to emergency discontinue its banking, debit products

Autodesk — the 3D tools behemoth — has acquired Wonder Dynamics, a startup that lets creators quickly and easily make complex characters and visual effects using AI-powered image analysis. The…

Autodesk acquires AI-powered VFX startup Wonder Dynamics

Farcaster, a blockchain-based social protocol founded by two Coinbase alumni, announced on Tuesday that it closed a $150 million fundraise. Led by Paradigm, the platform also raised money from a16z…

Farcaster, a crypto-based social network, raised $150M with just 80K daily users

Microsoft announced on Tuesday during its annual Build conference that it’s bringing “Windows Volumetric Apps” to Meta Quest headsets. The partnership will allow Microsoft to bring Windows 365 and local…

Microsoft’s new ‘Volumetric Apps’ for Quest headsets extend Windows apps into the 3D space

The spam reached Bluesky by first crossing over two other decentralized networks: Mastodon and Nostr.

The ‘vote Trump’ spam that hit Bluesky in May came from decentralized rival Nostr

Welcome to TechCrunch Fintech! This week, we’re looking at the continued fallout from Synapse’s bankruptcy, how Layer wants to disrupt SMB accounting, and much more! To get a roundup of…

There’s a real appetite for a fintech alternative to QuickBooks

The company is hoping to produce electricity at $13 per megawatt hour, which would be more than 50% cheaper than traditional onshore wind.

Bill Gates-backed wind startup AirLoom is raising $12M, filings reveal

Generative AI makes stuff up. It can be biased. Sometimes it spits out toxic text. So can it be “safe”? Rick Caccia, the CEO of WitnessAI, believes it can. “Securing…

WitnessAI is building guardrails for generative AI models

It’s not often that you hear about a seed round above $10 million. H, a startup based in Paris and previously known as Holistic AI, has announced a $220 million…

French AI startup H raises $220M seed round

Hey there, Series A to B startups with $35 million or less in funding — we’ve got an exciting opportunity that’s tailor-made for your growth journey! If you’re looking to…

Boost your startup’s growth with a ScaleUp package at TC Disrupt 2024

TikTok is pulling out all the stops to prevent its impending ban in the United States. Aside from initiating legal action against the U.S. government, that means shaping up its…

As a US ban looms, TikTok announces a $1M program for socially driven creators

Microsoft wants to put its Copilot everywhere. It’s only a matter of time before Microsoft renames its annual Build developer conference to Microsoft Copilot. Hopefully, some of those upcoming events…

Microsoft’s Power Automate no-code platform adds AI flows

Build is Microsoft’s largest developer conference and of course, it’s all about AI this year. So it’s no surprise that GitHub’s Copilot, GitHub’s “AI pair programming tool,” is taking center…

GitHub Copilot gets extensions

Microsoft wants to make its brand of generative AI more useful for teams — specifically teams across corporations and large enterprise organizations. This morning at its annual Build dev conference,…

Microsoft intros a Copilot for teams

Microsoft’s big focus at this year’s Build conference is generative AI. And to that end, the tech giant announced a series of updates to its platforms for building generative AI-powered…

Microsoft upgrades its AI app-building platforms

The U.K.’s data protection watchdog has closed an almost year-long investigation of Snap’s AI chatbot, My AI — saying it’s satisfied the social media firm has addressed concerns about risks…

UK data protection watchdog ends privacy probe of Snap’s GenAI chatbot, but warns industry

U.S. cell carrier Patriot Mobile experienced a data breach that included subscribers’ personal information, including full names, email addresses, home ZIP codes and account PINs, TechCrunch has learned. Patriot Mobile,…

Conservative cell carrier Patriot Mobile hit by data breach

It’s been three years since Spotify acquired live audio startup Betty Labs, and yet the music streaming service isn’t leveraging the technology to its fullest potential — at least not…

Spotify’s ‘Listening Party’ feature falls short of expectations

Alchemist Accelerator has a new pile of AI-forward companies demoing their wares today, if you care to watch, and the program itself is making some international moves into Tokyo and…

Alchemist’s latest batch puts AI to work as accelerator expands to Tokyo, Doha

“Late Pledge” allows campaign creators to continue collecting money even after the campaign has closed.

Kickstarter now lets you pledge after a campaign closes

Stack AI’s co-founders, Antoni Rosinol and Bernardo Aceituno, were PhD students at MIT wrapping up their degrees in 2022 just as large language models were becoming more mainstream. ChatGPT would…

Stack AI wants to make it easier to build AI-fueled workflows

Pinecone, the vector database startup founded by Edo Liberty, the former head of Amazon’s AI Labs, has long been at the forefront of helping businesses augment large language models (LLMs)…

Pinecone launches its serverless vector database out of preview

Young geothermal energy wells can be like budding prodigies, each brimming with potential to outshine their peers. But like people, most decline with age. In California, for example, the amount…

Special mud helps XGS Energy get more power out of geothermal wells

Featured Article

Sonos finally made some headphones

The market play is clear from the outset: The $449 headphones are firmly targeted at an audience that would otherwise be purchasing the Bose QC Ultra or Apple AirPods Max.

8 hours ago
Sonos finally made some headphones

Adobe says the feature is up to the task, regardless of how complex of a background the object is set against.

Adobe brings Firefly AI-powered Generative Remove to Lightroom

All cars suffer when the mercury drops, but electric vehicles suffer more than most as heaters draw more power and batteries charge more slowly as the liquid electrolyte inside thickens.…

Porsche Ventures invests in battery startup South 8 to boost cold-weather EV performance

Scale AI has raised a $1 billion Series F round from a slew of big-name institutional and corporate investors including Amazon and Meta.

Data-labeling startup Scale AI raises $1B as valuation doubles to $13.8B