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Ethereum Blockchain Forks to Return Stolen Funds

Advocates of an Ethereum "hard fork" got what they wanted, and Ether is now rebounding on the markets. But the future of the technology remains unclear

2 min read
Blockchain split up
Illustration: Hermin Utomo/Alamy

Remember that $60 million dollar blockchain heist that made headlines last month? You know, the one that threatened to throw the Ethereum project (the most successful cryptocurrency after Bitcoin) off the tracks? Well, as of today, it has all been magically fixed. On Wednesday, the users, miners, developers, exchanges, and everyone else who matters on the network embraced a fork of the Ethereum software. That effectively confiscated all of the stolen funds and placed them into a new account programmed to automatically reimburse victims of the theft. 

The maneuver, which was the focus of much philosophical and technical debate, seems to have worked well enough to call it a success. However, not everyone in the network went along with the fork. There are now two versions of the Ethereum blockchain growing in tandem—one (ETH) with the updates to the stolen funds and one (ETHC) that keeps everything as it was. You can see both chains growing here. About 15 percent of miners have continued to mine new blocks on the original Ethereum blockchain. However, none of the major online exchanges are listing or trading the coins generated on the un-forked chain. And so, it could be argued that at this point that those coins have no real value.

The forked chain, on the other hand, is performing well on exchanges. The price of Ethereum’s native currency, Ether, crashed right after The DAO—a smart contract-enabled investment fund—was hacked and drained of 3.6 million Ether. It now seems to be making a slow recovery.

A 13-percent increase in the market value of Ether does indeed signal a renewed faith in the overall viability of the Ethereum project. But, even as it seems to have been a success, the bailout of The DAO is likely to generate a lot of much needed discussion. The hard fork Ethereum pulled off this week marks the first time a protocol change has been written and adopted with the explicit goal of confiscating funds. Next week, we will take a look at what kinds of precedents this could set, both in terms of how the Ethereum community makes controversial decisions and what kinds of social intervention users will accept.

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Metamaterials Could Solve One of 6G’s Big Problems

There’s plenty of bandwidth available if we use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces

12 min read
An illustration depicting cellphone users at street level in a city, with wireless signals reaching them via reflecting surfaces.

Ground level in a typical urban canyon, shielded by tall buildings, will be inaccessible to some 6G frequencies. Deft placement of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces [yellow] will enable the signals to pervade these areas.

Chris Philpot

For all the tumultuous revolution in wireless technology over the past several decades, there have been a couple of constants. One is the overcrowding of radio bands, and the other is the move to escape that congestion by exploiting higher and higher frequencies. And today, as engineers roll out 5G and plan for 6G wireless, they find themselves at a crossroads: After years of designing superefficient transmitters and receivers, and of compensating for the signal losses at the end points of a radio channel, they’re beginning to realize that they are approaching the practical limits of transmitter and receiver efficiency. From now on, to get high performance as we go to higher frequencies, we will need to engineer the wireless channel itself. But how can we possibly engineer and control a wireless environment, which is determined by a host of factors, many of them random and therefore unpredictable?

Perhaps the most promising solution, right now, is to use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces. These are planar structures typically ranging in size from about 100 square centimeters to about 5 square meters or more, depending on the frequency and other factors. These surfaces use advanced substances called metamaterials to reflect and refract electromagnetic waves. Thin two-dimensional metamaterials, known as metasurfaces, can be designed to sense the local electromagnetic environment and tune the wave’s key properties, such as its amplitude, phase, and polarization, as the wave is reflected or refracted by the surface. So as the waves fall on such a surface, it can alter the incident waves’ direction so as to strengthen the channel. In fact, these metasurfaces can be programmed to make these changes dynamically, reconfiguring the signal in real time in response to changes in the wireless channel. Think of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces as the next evolution of the repeater concept.

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