Vitalik Buterin’s Call to Resist High-Risk Techniques and Application Overloads in Stretching Ethereum Consensus

Vitalik’s recent article has raised concerns about certain technologies and practices within the Ethereum ecosystem. The article highlights the risks associated with using the Ethereum validator set and social consensus for purposes beyond the core Ethereum protocol rules. While these proposals may have good intentions, they pose systemic risks that should be discouraged and resisted.

The Ethereum network’s consensus mechanism is highly secure, with a large number of validators finalizing a block every 6.4 minutes. In the event of a failure, the Ethereum community, consisting of thousands of developers and users, closely monitors the chain’s recovery process. Moreover, protocol rules ensure that attackers are heavily penalized.

The article identifies several techniques that potentially overload Ethereum’s consensus and social consensus. These include the “ultimate oracle,” re-staking, and L1-driven recovery of L2 projects. While some dual-use of validator staked ETH is acceptable, attempts to recruit Ethereum social consensus for specific applications are deemed high-risk and should be resisted.

The article provides examples to illustrate the distinction between low-risk practices and high-risk practices. Low-risk examples include using cryptographic proof of validator control for verification purposes or creating a web3 social network. On the other hand, high-risk examples involve using Ethereum social consensus for resolving political disputes or forking the chain to favor certain participants.

The potential risks of stretching Ethereum consensus beyond its core functions are highlighted. The inclusion of real-world price indices or other external information could introduce conflicts and lead to community divisions. The article warns about the dangers of Ethereum becoming entangled in political events or legal disputes, which could undermine its role as a neutral technical platform.

Expanding Ethereum’s consensus responsibilities increases the complexity and risks for validators. It could also create incentives for externalizing decision-making to centralized entities, impacting the decentralized nature of the platform. Additionally, the possibility of chain splits may favor larger projects, creating a too-big-to-fail dynamic and stifling smaller projects.

The article suggests that solutions to these challenges should be addressed on a case-by-case basis. For price oracles, alternative decentralized or voting-based solutions that don’t rely on appealing to L1 consensus for recovery are recommended. Complex truth oracles could be built on decentralized court systems. When it comes to layer 2 protocols and cross-chain bridges, careful design and minimizing reliance on external systems are essential. Finally, using the Ethereum validator set to secure other chains should be approached cautiously.

In conclusion, Vitalik’s article emphasizes the importance of preserving Ethereum’s core consensus functions and minimalism. While innovation is encouraged, overloading Ethereum’s consensus with additional responsibilities carries high systemic risks. By carefully considering the risks and implementing appropriate solutions, the Ethereum ecosystem can maintain its security and resilience.

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