THE BLOG
07/22/2016 12:14 pm ET Updated Jul 23, 2017

Ethereum's Averted DAO Crisis: A Philosophical Retrospective

You can tell I am not remotely impressed with those few in the Bitcoin community who continue a strange PR war against Ethereum. It just won't work. In fact, it may backfire - if there's one thing I have seen over the years in media, both personally and professionally, it's that the public doesn't welcome a sore loser.

Ethereum is up more than 1,000% in 2016, counts among its corporate friends and patrons the mega-giant bank UBS and the software company Microsoft, was recently added by leading cryptocurrency firm Coinbase and also survived a technically complex maneuver known as a "fork" that saw the return of $50 million worth of stolen Ether to DAO participants. The DAO was a poorly coded third party app running on Ethereum's blockchain; an attacker was able to move $50 million to a location of his choosing within Ethereum, but he was not able to move it off the network. Thus, the community had a decision to make: return the funds to a recoverable location so that users could withdraw their money, or allow the unknown attacker to keep his $50 million payday.

To give us deeper insight into the DAO hack and the issues at play here, with permission I am republishing Roman Mandeleil's recent blog post below. Mandeleil is CEO and founder of ether.camp, the Ethereum community's most popular block explorer and contract analysis suite. He also coded the Java client of Ethereum, making him uniquely positioned to analyze the DAO events that unfolded as he's been involved in the Ethereum ecosystem for longer than almost anyone.

The DAO Crisis: A Philosophical Retrospective

There is a valid truth that lives among the people protesting the Fork: nobody signed up for a centrally controlled system. A fundamental concept of crypto freedom is now under real threat.

There is also a truth among people who support the intrusive fix of the Ethereum Blockchain, they believe that a crime has been committed and that to leave such a large pot of funds in the hands of a single thief puts a question mark on Ethereum's future.

I have spent the last month quietly observing both points of view in this great debate, coming as it does with classic timing, just shy of the anniversary of the launch of the Ethereum live network. In weighing up both sides of the argument and trying to formulate my own opinion, I would like to raise several points that should be considered by both camps:

The age of the network:

On August 15, 2010 jgarzik noticed that somebody, somehow created 92 Billion Bitcoins. Yes, 92 Billion with a 'B'!

As would eventually be clear, it turned out to be a hack exploiting a bug in the operating numbers with a floating point. Consensus among the users of the young network to fix the bug with a hard fork was achieved in 5 hours. It didn't take a month of debates to make it happen. The network was 1 year old and completely controlled by the stakeholders. All the miners were connected with the core devs who were completely aware of the benefit of following the change of direction advocated by the devs, trusting them to know what can be fixed and how best to fix it.

I don't want to get into a debate about whether the DAO crisis is technically comparable. The point here is the correlation between the age of the network and number of people who could actively influence the consensus. How many people would it take today in order to conduct a debate regarding the fix and actually make it possible on the Bitcoin network? Would it happen eventually? Open question isn't it. What we can be sure of is that if it happened today it wouldn't be resolved in 5 hours, much more time would be required, if it even would be resolved at all.

Ethereum is not different in this matter, the network is still under construction and we can even say that it is still in the process of active research. The mining pools and some GPU giant field owners are in close communication with both the core devs and the foundation in order to monitor how the network is evolving. I would even say that 8 months back, the debate around a hard fork would have been much lighter.

People who invested huge funds and effort into Ethereum are carefully watching the decisions of 2-3 people. Is it always going to be like that? Is the age of the network an actual factor in the matter of its control decentralization? Also an open question, isn't it?

The prior forks and the future forks:

How could we miss that we just had a complete fork of the network during the expected move from Frontier to Homestead? Could or should anybody stay on the old version? Why was there no hot debate around that upgrade?

Wait... we are going to have 2-3 more system upgrades, changes so drastic and cardinal that they include transferring transaction rewards from the GPU miners to the fund holders. Is the nature of these forks completely different? Is anybody opposing this today? Why not?

The central authority:

If this network stays controlled by the foundation and the investors of the foundation, it is doomed; nobody will trust the freedoms that it claims to provide. If 2 mining pools and 3 core developers have the ability to change anything in the network it won't grow and reach its potential. How many people understand this today? Are all of them in the fork opposition?

The illusion of freedom:

Let's think about a hypothetical manner in which these events might have unfolded. Say the core developers and VButerin watch the objection to the fork and after deliberation decide not to implement the fork. What does it mean? Does it mean that they couldn't execute a fork? Absolutely not. All it would mean is that they decided against it. Is that situation better than the actual fork? All the arguments against the fork are still here, aren't they? Yet we're trapped in the illusory image of the uncontrolled network. Do you want to live trapped in that illusion?

The moral claim:

Let's think about a hypothetical incident: VButerin proposes a fork that will alter the core algorithm in such way that the system takes a 1% haircut on every Eth holders balance and transfers it to a foundation address. Let's call it the Ethereum Foundation Tax. What do you think will happen? How many supporters would such an idea collect under its flag? My point here is that we, the people, never considered the fork proposal in a way that is unrelated to its content. We also consider the moral aspects of the proposal and if the fork could get enough supporters to make it through, isn't that already indicating whether or not it's a good thing?

Summary and Looking into the future:

I don't want to leave this philosophical tractatus, utterly clogged by foggy points of view and different possible aspects, without stating my own opinion: and my opinion is actually an optimistic one.

After all the drama we are all much smarter now. We are a community of developers / miners / investors / fans and supporters. We have studied a direct way to exploit multi contract systems and learned how to protect our future systems from it.

We know much more about what crypto consensus means, we studied the role of the machines and clarified that coding and development is still being managed by the people. We know that the community leaders are there because of their technical leadership and that today, they have authority to make changes over the entire Ethereum protocol.

Ethereum is here and it is not going anywhere. It will grow, the network will stabilize and investment will continue to pour into ecosystem projects. The number of people needing be convinced on a future hard fork will grow dramatically and the probability of a successful fork decision will be much lower.

Let's have a look at the traffic chart of our network explorer during the DAO black Friday:

What we can take from this is that a huge amount of people care a huge amount about Ethereum, regardless of whether they are fork supporters or denouncers. People have spent countless hours debating the hard fork out of a sincere intention to influence the future direction of Ethereum. Such a considerable emotional response proves that Ethereum is already important and that its current net worth is not accidental.

Once the hard fork is running and the debate is over, we want to invite the whole community to our online hackathon at hack.ether.camp. Let's take the passion we have seen over the last month and see what the community can come up with next.

Godspeed you all.
RomanJ.