Ethereum Project Update

Development of the Ethereum project has gone very well over the months since inception.  The core activity — development of the software platform — is on track and many developers around the world are starting to build small, exploratory distributed applications on the platform, even though we are still not yet in alpha release.

The 5th installment of the proof of concept series will be released soon, though many community members download the developing source code, compile it and use it on a regular basis for their various activities.

Other core activities include attention to legalities in different jurisdictions regarding the pre-sale, development and testing of the hot/cold wallet system, and development and testing of the sale web site.  These are well on their way to completion.  Documentation regarding the sale is also nearing completion though there are still some incomplete items in the critical path that makes it difficult for us to set a sale date as yet.

All of these activities are embedded in an ongoing base of support and communications activities.  These have grown extensive due to the global popularity of the project.  Our twitter followers number in excess of 6000.  The number of global meet-ups that focus on Ethereum exclusively or significantly currently numbers 58 groups in 49 different cities, spread over 19 countries.  13,300 people have subscribed to our newsletter.  And the  various discussions on reddit/r/etherum and forum.ethereum.org are active.

This project is agile and fast moving and has benefitted from several leadership reorganizations since inception. It is anticipated that this fluidity will continue as each of us are dedicated remaining lean and agile and to doing what is best for the project at any given time.

Stephan Tual and Taylor Gerring have been on the project and essential to it since the early days.  Though they had significant input already, this has been formalized and they are now part of the leadership group.

The most recent phase of business activity involved strong attention to the legalities of the sale and Charles Hoskinson was ideal to lead that effort.  But that effort is now substantially complete and Charles will be moving on to other activities in the space.

Please stay tuned to this channel as we will continue to release information regarding software development activities and details of the pre-sale for absorption and feedback.

 

The Xbox and Ethereum’s Dual Mandate

The Necessity to Build and Launch an Ecosystem on Genesis Day

Imagine if Microsoft released the Xbox and there were no games.

On the day on which the Ethereum genesis block is created, many of the elements of the ecosystem — core infrastructure, mining network, user app browser and applications — will be in place.  Granted there will be an enormous amount of development to do beyond the genesis to craft Ethereum into a sophisticated, decentralized consensus (decentcon) application platform.  But on day one, there will be “launch titles.”

Originally, when the idea behind Ethereum was conceived in November, the intent was for it to be a simple “altcoin” (in fact, a meta-protocol on top of Primecoin) with a scripting language built in. Over time, however, as we realized the project’s potential our scope necessarily grew, and our current intent is to release a flagship product called the “EtherBrowser:” a browser that can browse both the old-school Internet and the decentralized web (Web 3.0).  From the moment of inception of the Ethereum network, the following elements in the EtherBrowser and the ecosystem will be operational:

  • a fully functional implementation of the Ethereum blockchain which enhances the Bitcoin technology with one-minute block times and stronger security (GHOST protocol), which decentralized applications (“ÐApps”) can use for anything that requires consensus (eg. currency and token systems, name registries, proof of existence, etc., …)
  • a fully functional peer-to-peer protocol, which ÐApps can use to send messages between users. For example, a decentralized messaging ÐApp will use this protocol for actual message sending, but the blockchain for registering user accounts.
  • an elegant, browser-and-app-store user interface for using ÐApps
  • network nodes (miners) that process transactions and computations, secure the network through a consensus process and are compensated by fees and the issuance of new ether
  • a standard set of “built-in” utility-level ÐApps: distributed wallet, distributed ID system, distributed reputation system, distributed messaging system, distributed name registry service, distributed catalog of distributed applications, etc., will serve as just a few of the low-level utilities on the system
  • a standard set of built-in tools for both developer and end-user: blockchain explorer, contract explorer, transaction constructor, encrypted messaging tool, signature tool, authentication tool, ….  And a debugger will be available for the hard core.

And soon after the genesis we hope to see a rich set of third-party distributed applications, e.g. distributed storage services, distributed notary services, distributed exchange services, distributed escrow and arbitration services, financial contracts, insurance contracts, lending services, purposed reputation systems, games, entertainment services, etc., …  Each of the ÐApps in the different business verticals will be able to make use of the lower level, system utility ÐApps like the ID and reputation systems.

Without operational distributed applications, Ethereum is a hollow shell.  In order to have a broad offering of distributed applications from day one, non-profit, public-good elements must be built in conjunction with commercially driven applications in competitive markets.  From this requirement, Ethereum takes its dual mandate.

It can be argued that certain elements within an ecosystem should be developed for the common good, and do not benefit from a profit motive.  Certain other elements, are better developed in a competitive, for-profit context.  For instance, it makes some sense to develop a coherent, large-scale, systematized road system for the public good, using public tax dollars.  But it probably does not make sense to build cars with public tax dollars, since development under the pressures of free market competition forces the design and production of better products and benefits the market as a whole.

Dual Mandate: Collaborative Non-Profit and For-Profit Development

Two hub organizations will lead the Ethereum Project under dual mandate: a for-profit entity based in Zug, Switzerland, and a non-profit organization, based in Toronto, Canada.  Both of these organizations will be constructed in a fashion that will enable each to remain strong and financially independent to ensure years of development and growth of the ecosystem.

The Ethereum ecosystem will initially be constructed by the non-profit and for-profit entities in partnership, ideally with broad participation from many other independent entities.  The founding leadership will put into place mechanism that ensures that the foundational elements of the ecosystem are built and maintained in a fashion that adheres to the founding principles.  Funding and independence will be guaranteed to the organizations (either state-registered businesses or eventually blockchain-registered businesses) that guide the various avenues of development of the core infrastructure.

At the same time, human economies are largely about free market commerce (or should be), so the non-profit organization, to some extent — and especially the for-profit entity — will assist independent business efforts in the space to launch and flourish.  This assistance can take a variety of forms from providing resources and guidance, to maintaining support channels, to the creation of joint ventures.

The Hybrid Organization Model

“Mozilla is one such [hybrid non-profit/for-profit] organization and, as I look around, I see others. There is alot [sic] of upside to how these orgs work, especially the potential to move markets towards the public good at a global scale.

“…the more I dig, the more I am convinced that organizations like Mozilla, Wikipedia, Kiva, Miro and so on that mashup mission, market and the culture of the web represent a new pattern worth understanding.

“Mission + market + web hybrids matter because they can wield the power needed to move markets at a global scale, while still looking out for the small guy, taking the long view and staying true to their public benefit mission. They show us how organizations could — and maybe should — work in the future.”

– Mark Surman, Executive Director, Mozilla Foundation

Trolltech/Digia (Qt), WordPress, Red Hat, Google Android and the Open Handset Alliance, The Mozilla Organization and several others have pioneered the dual mandate approach and built thriving ecosystems and successful companies.  The model that Sun developed in the late 90s is also instructive.

Sun Microsystems (now Oracle) developed the Java computer language and libraries in house. As innovative as it was, it is likely that it would not have acquired such large market share, had Sun not realized that they, as a for-profit company, could not control a foundational aspect of software development that it, and many of its competitors, were expected to use.  To address this conflict of interest, Sun open sourced Java and developed the Java Community Process to shepherd growth of the platform in a nonpartisan fashion.

Ethereum is an open source project and will remain open source.  And the Ethereum Project, under the auspices of its non-profit foundation will create a community development process philosophically similar to the Java Community Process.  In fact, Ethereum, thus far has been developed under a less formalized community development process.

The Ethereum non-profit entity will specify and guide the development of the core Ethereum infrastructure.  It will employ a non-partisan community development process and will develop, conduct and support research initiatives in the general cryptocurrency space.  The non-profit will have a membership composed originally of the Ethereum founders, and soon will add other independent leaders in the emerging space.

The Ethereum for-profit entity will be charged with the task of developing certain elements of the core infrastructure in collaboration with the non-profit entity and building out the Ecosystem with distributed application services and businesses that it develops itself, funds, or otherwise supports.

We believe this to be the most effective structure in the near term.  That said, we are DAOists (where DAO means Distributed Autonomous Organization).  We will look to move as much infrastructure and governance as soon as possible onto the blockchain.  Our OpenSalary system will probably be the first component to move to the blockchain. Please stay tuned for more on the topics of OpenOrganization and DAOification of the two organizations.  Our goal, if we do our jobs properly, is to put ourselves out of (state-registered) business.

 

What is Ethereum? Project, Platform, Fuel, Stack.

What is Ethereum, the Project?

The Ethereum Project is an open source, community-driven effort designed to create a next-generation distributed application platform intended to be maximally flexible and powerful in the possibilities that it enables.

What is Ethereum, the Platform?

The Ethereum Platform combines a generalized peer-to-peer networking platform with next-generation blockchain architecture to deliver a decentralized consensus-based (decentcon), full-stack platform for developing, offering and using distributed application services.  A consumer-facing application, called the EtherBrowser, integrates the front and back ends to create an environment in which anyone can easily and rapidly build highly secure, scalable and interoperable decentralized applications.

Like the BitTorrent content sharing system, Ethereum network nodes will run on thousands of computers around the world and, short of shutting down the Internet, its operations cannot be halted.  This is because peer-to-peer systems generally involve a very large number of independent actors (people or organizations) each running the peer node software on one or more computers.  In the Bitcoin system, these nodes are called “miners.”

Like Bitcoin, in Ethereum, the nodes on the network serve as miners whose purpose is to process and validate the transactions and computations on the system and quickly achieve a consensus regarding what happened on the system and when.  This consensus is what provides the network with its security.  The larger the number of nodes there are and the more work these nodes have to do to exercise a vote regarding what transpired on the network, the greater is the sense that this shared consensus view of the history of the system is a canonical and irrepudiable representation.  In Ethereum, miners receive a reward for doing the work required to inform and enable their vote and they are also paid for providing resources to the network in the form of bandwidth, storage and computational processing.

Bitcoin is a system for securely transmitting and storing value.  As such, it can serve as the financial bedrock of the emerging global decentcon economy.  A conservative, prudent, development roadmap for Bitcoin will make it easier to use and further secure the protocol against quirks and edge cases that might be exploited in the future (though it has thus far proven to be remarkably solid at the protocol level).  In contrast, as a platform for hosting distributed or decentralized applications (ÐApps — spelled with the capital letter “eth” and pronounced “dapps” or “eth-apps” by the cognoscenti 🙂 ) and services, Ethereum must be agile and forward moving.  In Q4 of 2014, the Ethereum team will deliver a feature-rich system that will be fully functional and will possess a rich user interface and deliver a compelling user experience for both end users and businesses building ÐApps and offering services on the platform.  But technology moves fast, so Ethereum will require an upgrade roadmap and continual development.

What is Ether, the Cryptofuel?

Just as the Bitcoin system has a token, called a bitcoin (lower case) that serves as the medium of exchange, Ethereum has ether (ETH) which serves as a unit of exchange to some degree, but more importantly, it serves as a fuel that powers applications on the Ethereum system.

The engineers of the Ethereum Project are building a computational device or appliance, in the form of a software program, that anyone can download and run on their computer, smart phone, or on dedicated, fast hardware.  In order to operate this software appliance a certain type of token is required as fuel in appropriate quantities.

Distributed applications on Ethereum require payments of this token to fuel every computational and storage operation on the system. Without requiring payments for operations, the system would be vulnerable to many sorts of attacks and would not be viable or secure. The payments are made to owners of computational resources in exchange for securing the Ethereum network, for transmitting transactions, for storing data and for processing computations required by distributed software applications.

People and businesses are interested in purchasing ETH to power their own business applications, to make use of business applications offered by other service providers, to trade on forthcoming exchanges, or to speculatively hold for future sale to people and businesses.  ETH may be purchased in the Genesis Sale (details forthcoming, please watch this space), on forthcoming 3rd-party exchanges and ATMs, and on exchanges that are implemented as DApps on Ethereum.

When purchasing ETH in the Genesis Sale, the buyer is supporting the development of the product, just as with a kickstarter campaign. When the product is completed and ready for delivery, buyers will be able to claim their purchased ETH from the genesis block — the root block of the Ethereum blockchain.

What is Ethereum, the Software Stack?

A software stack is a set of technologies, realized at different layers and levels of abstraction and possessing different complementary capabilities that work well together to enable a software development team to build a full, back-end to front-end software service for an end user.  Ethereum provides a full-stack solution for developing and delivering ÐApps, the front end of which may be accessed by an end user from a web page, dedicated front-end applications, or more commonly from the Ethereum ÐApp Browser.  The Ethereum stack is the first of its kind to enable developers to deliver decentcon software applications.

When delivering an ÐApp the developer or deployer of that ÐApp does not arrange hosting of back-end server processes as with traditional software services.  Rather, the code is embedded as payload in a transaction on the Ethereum network and sent to one or more mining nodes on the network.  Miners that receive the transaction will broadcast it to all of the peers that they are aware of, provided the transaction sender has included enough ETH, the cryptofuel that powers operations on the system, to pay for the transaction.  This transaction diffuses through the network, peer to peer, and eventually is packaged into a block and locked into the blockchain.  Blocks are created by miners approximately once per minute.  Once the transaction with the code payload is embedded into a block, subsequent transactions can be sent to an address that is designated as the controller interface for that ÐApp to invoke processing of the ÐApp.

When an end user wishes to activate one or more services offered by this ÐApp, she will typically interact with a front-end user interface, loaded into the ÐApp Browser (probably Qt-based or JavaScript/HTML5/CSS3) to trigger desired actions.  User interface components will be cached on some kind of decentralized BitTorrent-like cloud and pulled in by the ÐApp Browser as needed. The user interface will formulate Ethereum transactions and send these, with a suitable amount of the cryptofuel and any input data required, to the address of the controller interface of the ÐApp.  Once collected into a block, the transaction will trigger execution of the ÐApp and the states of various components (called contracts) of the ÐApp will transition to a result state.  A peer-to-peer fast messaging protocol, will enable the user interface to reflect such changes, and will facilitate communication among different DApps and among users.

One thing to notice is that, from the perspective of application hosting, there is virtually nothing to be done.  The back end is launched into the blockchain “cloud” and the front end will usually be represented as a installable tile in the Ethereum ÐApp Browser.  The end user will download the browser once and the browser will receive continual updates from BitTorrent or a BitTorrent-like distribution system.  While browsing the distributed ÐApp catalog in the browser, the end user can install any ÐApp of interest in her browser with a no cost, one-click installation.  These tiles will be organized categorically by users and each will be invokable into in a full blown, user interface “responsively” sized and configured to the dimensions and capabilities of the browser (some weaker devices may have limitations).

The programming paradigm just described will be very unusual in comparison to typical development technologies and will require innovative (and perhaps sometimes kludgey) approaches.  If a programmer can only expect the state of the business logic to update once per minute, stochastically, techniques will have to be developed for certain kinds of applications to perhaps cache certain expected state changes and wait on back end processing before updating the front end.  Even more complicated is the fact that a block housing transactions and associated ÐApp state changes can be constructed and included in the blockchain but then find itself not part of the main consensus blockchain soon after and possibly have the associated transactions remain unconfirmed and unprocessed for a period of time.  Worse, an intervening transaction might be processed first, thus rendering the first transaction invalid.  An entire new field of blockchain-based software development techniques is required.  Many developers will forge novel solutions.  And some fundamentally new approaches may be required.  And for this, we are developing the Crypto Currency Research Group (CCRG) to conduct general research of benefit to the entire niche.  Please watch this space for more on the CCRG.

 

The Issuance Model in Ethereum

Ether (ETH), the cryptofuel that powers distributed applications on the Ethereum platform, will be issued at a constant annual linear rate via the block mining process. This rate is 0.3 times the total amount of ETH that will be purchased in the pre-sale.

While the best metaphor for ETH is “fuel for running the contract processing engine,” for the purposes of this post, we will treat ETH purely as a currency.

There are two common definitions of “inflation.”  The first relates to prices and the second relates to the total amount of money in a system – the monetary base or supply.  Similarly for the term “deflation.”  In this post we will distinguish between “price inflation,” the rise in the general price level of goods and services in an economy, and “monetary inflation,” the growth in the supply of money in an economy due to some sort of issuance mechanism.  Often, but not always, monetary inflation is a cause of price inflation.

Though the issuance of ETH is in a fixed amount each year, the rate of growth of the monetary base (monetary inflation) is not constant.  This monetary inflation rate decreases every year making ETH a disinflationary currency (in terms of monetary base).  Disinflation is a special case of inflation in which the amount of inflation shrinks over time.

It is expected that the amount of ETH that will be lost each year caused by transmissions to addresses which are no longer accessible is estimated to be on the order of 1% of the monetary base. ETH may be lost due to loss of private keys, death of owner without transmission of private keys, or purposeful destruction by sending to an address that never had an associated private key generated.

If we assume that Ethereum sells 40,000 BTC worth of ETH in the pre-sale, and if we assume that the average price is 1500 ETH/ BTC, 60,000,000 ETH will be created in the genesis block and assigned to purchasers. Every year, in perpetuity, 18,000,000 ETH will be issued though the mining process.  Taking into account both creation of new ETH and loss of existing ETH, in the first year, this represents a monetary inflation rate of 22.4%.  In the second year the rate drops to 18.1%.  By the tenth year, the rate is 7.0%.  In year 38, it hits 1.9%. And in the 64th year, the level of 1.0% is reached.

Image

Figure 1.  Amount of ETH in existence (dark green curve) on the left axis.  Monetary base inflation rate (light green curve) on the right axis.  Years on the horizontal axis.  (Adapted from Arun Mittal with thanks.)

 

By approximately the year 2140, the issuance of BTC ceases and since some BTC will likely be lost each year, the monetary base of Bitcoin is expected to start shrinking at that point.

At approximately the same time, the expected rate of annual loss and destruction of ETH will balance the rate of issuance.  Under this dynamic, a quasi-steady state is reached and the amount of extant ETH no longer grows. If the demand for ETH is still growing at that point due to an expanding economy, prices will be in a deflationary regime.  This is not an existential problem for the system since ETH is theoretically infinitely divisible. As long as the rate of price deflation is not too rapid, pricing mechanisms will adjust and the system will operate smoothly.  The traditional main objection to deflationary economies, wage stickiness, is likely not to be an issue since all payments systems will be fluid.  Another frequent objection, borrowers forced to repay loans with a currency that grows in purchasing power over time, will also not be a problem if this regime is persistent, since terms of lending will be defined to account for this.

Note that while the monetary inflation remains greater than zero for many years, price levels (tracked as price inflation and deflation) are dependent on supply and demand, so are related to, but not totally controlled by the rate of issuance (supply).  Over time it is anticipated that growth of the Ethereum economy will significantly outpace growth of the supply of ETH, which could lead to an increase in the value of ETH with respect to legacy currencies and BTC.

One of Bitcoin’s great value propositions was the algorithmically fixed total issuance of the currency which mandated that only 21,000,000 BTC will ever be created.  In a time of profligate legacy currency printing in an exponentially doomed attempt to patch over the fact that there is too much debt in the global economic system (with more debt), the prospect of a universally accepted cryptocurrency that can serve eventually as a relatively stable store of value is attractive.  Ethereum recognizes this and seeks to emulate this core value proposition.

Ethereum also recognizes that a system intended to serve as a distributed, consensus-based application platform for global economic and social systems, must strongly emphasize inclusiveness. One of the many ways we intend to foster inclusiveness is by maintaining an issuance system which possesses some churn.  New participants in the system will be able to purchase new ETH or mine for new ETH whether they are living in the year 2015 or 2115. We believe we have a achieved a good balance between the two goals of fostering inclusiveness and maintaining a stable store of value. And the constant issuance, especially in the early years, will likely make using ETH to build businesses in the Ethereum economy more lucrative than hoarding speculatively.