Ethereum Developer Explores the Dark Side of Bitcoin-Inspired Technology

Vlad Zamfir is helping Ethereum make a world where any exchange can happen using blockchains. And he’s really worried about it

4 min read
Illustration by Donald Iain Smith/Getty Images
Illustration: Donald Iain Smith/Getty Images

In 2009, Satoshi Nakamoto—whoever he or she really is—used a new invention, called the blockchain, to run currency maintenance and payment software over a decentralized, global computer network. What we got was Bitcoin, an unstoppable digital currency. We now know that a blockchain, in its generalized form, can also be used to run any other kind of software imaginable. Once deployed on a blockchain, programs run automatically, they are accessible to anyone with an Internet connection, and they are nearly impervious to governmental controls. Which is to say, they are essentially autonomous. If the word Skynet just floated through your mind, then you’re starting to get the picture. (See “The Future of the Web Looks A Lot Like Bitcoin.” And watch this explainer of how the blockchain works.)

Ethereum is one of the projects bringing this technology to the masses. It provides a user-friendly platform for deploying software onto a blockchain network. Vlad Zamfir has been working on refining the protocols that will ensure that the Ethereum network can be scaled up. Most of the people developing similar systems speak with unqualified exhilaration about blockchain technology’s disruptive potential: They tout censor-proof social media tools, automated microlending apps, and government-independent identity verification, to name just a few examples. But, in his moments of greatest doubt, Zamfir finds the resulting loss of societal control terrifying. He spoke with IEEE Spectrum about the darker potential of public blockchains, what can be done to keep the technology an engine for social good, and why he still thinks the benefits outweigh the risks.

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An IBM Quantum Computer Will Soon Pass the 1,000-Qubit Mark

The Condor processor is just one quantum-computing advance slated for 2023

4 min read
This photo shows a woman working on a piece of apparatus that is suspended from the ceiling of the laboratory.

A researcher at IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center examines some of the quantum hardware being constructed there.

Connie Zhou/IBM

IBM’s Condor, the world’s first universal quantum computer with more than 1,000 qubits, is set to debut in 2023. The year is also expected to see IBM launch Heron, the first of a new flock of modular quantum processors that the company says may help it produce quantum computers with more than 4,000 qubits by 2025.

This article is part of our special report Top Tech 2023.

While quantum computers can, in theory, quickly find answers to problems that classical computers would take eons to solve, today’s quantum hardware is still short on qubits, limiting its usefulness. Entanglement and other quantum states necessary for quantum computation are infamously fragile, being susceptible to heat and other disturbances, which makes scaling up the number of qubits a huge technical challenge.

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