Vitalik Buterin, Ethereum Co-founder, Urges Restraint in Loading Consensus Layer
Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin has recently shared his concerns through an extensive blog post, warning about the potential risks associated with overextending Ethereum’s consensus layer beyond its primary functions of block validation and network security.
Strength and Fragility of the Ethereum (ETH) Cryptoeconomic Consensus
According to Buterin, Ethereum’s consensus mechanism stands as one of the most highly secured crypto-economic systems in existence. The network benefits from approximately 18 million ETH (equivalent to approximately $34 billion) worth of validators, ensuring block finalization every 6.4 minutes. These validators operate multiple implementations of the protocol, ensuring redundancy.
In the event of a crypto-economic consensus failure due to either a bug or a deliberate 51% attack, a large community comprising thousands of developers and numerous users is closely monitoring the situation to ensure proper recovery. Protocol rules guarantee severe penalties for attackers once the chain is restored.
Drawing upon various real-world scenarios, Buterin emphasizes the advantage of a blockchain’s “purity” as a purely mathematical construct focused on achieving consensus solely on mathematical aspects.
However, when a blockchain attempts to integrate with external entities, conflicts from the outside world can begin to influence and impact the blockchain. Even seemingly benign elements like a currency oracle could potentially create division within the community, especially in the face of significant political events.
Buterin asserts that social consensus within blockchain communities is fragile yet necessary due to the occurrence of upgrades, bugs, and the constant possibility of 51% attacks. However, due to the inherent risk of chain splits, mature communities should exercise caution when employing social consensus. While there is a natural inclination to expand the core functionality of the blockchain, this approach renders the core itself more susceptible to fragility.
Buterin warns against application-layer projects taking actions that could potentially broaden the scope of blockchain consensus beyond verifying the core Ethereum protocol rules. While such strategies may arise naturally, often without a full understanding of the associated risks, they can inadvertently deviate from the broader community’s goals.
This uncontrolled expansion lacks a limiting principle and may lead to a blockchain community facing a difficult choice between a high risk of chain splits and the emergence of a de facto formalized bureaucracy that exerts ultimate control over the chain.
The recommended approach, according to Buterin, is to preserve the minimalism of the Ethereum blockchain, supporting re-staking methods that do not appear as slippery slopes toward extending the role of Ethereum’s consensus. Instead, developers should be encouraged to explore alternative strategies to achieve their security objectives while ensuring the chain remains resilient.