Vitalik Buterin talks sweets and verkle trees but don’t ask him about the SEC’s review of Ethereum

Vitalik Buterin talks sweets and verkle trees but don’t ask him about the SEC’s review of Ethereum
Vitalik Buterin conducting an interview in Taipei where questions were pre-approved and no follow-ups were permitted. Credit: Darren Joseph
  • The Ethereum co-founder shut down a reporter who asked about regulatory challenges.
  • Attendees at ETHTaipei 2024 were eager to listen to Buterin's observations on Ethereum.
  • Restrictive policies at Buterin interview belied the open source ethos of DeFi.

It was an unusual question. Vitalik Buterin pondered it for a moment before answering.

“When I make my own food it’s basically putting almond butter and dark chocolate and coconut milk and various fruits into a bowl, and then that’s my breakfast,” said Buterin.

So it’s sweet? asked the interviewer.

“It’s not sweet,” he clarified. “Ninety percent chocolate. When I say chocolate, I always mean chocolate, I don’t mean sugar with a little bit of chocolate.”

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There was a bit of laughter. It happened again when he made a Dogecoin joke. He spoke a bit of Mandarin and people clapped and cheered.

Unmentioned news

Buterin, the leading architect of Ethereum, was speaking to a room of reporters on Thursday at ETHTaipei 2024, one of the several conferences the network’s governing foundation hosts to showcase the latest features of the world’s second most valuable cryptocurrency network.

Even as he answered queries that might be better suited for a social media influencer than a gifted computer scientist, the big news of the day went unmentioned.

On Wednesday, Fortune magazine reported that the US Securities and Exchange Commission was examining whether Ethereum’s token, Ether, should be defined as a security.

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Crypto lawyer Gabriel Shapiro told DL News the reported review may put the kibosh on the push by Wall Street asset management firms to bring out Ether ETFs.

“It could give them an excuse to not approve an ETH ETF, which is likely their biggest objective here,” Shapiro said.

The headlines eclipsed the buzz around Ethereum’s latest upgrade, dubbed Dencun, at least for a day.

And when I interrupted at the end of the group interview to ask Buterin about the regulatory issue, he shut me down quickly with a sharp “no” and a long stare.

It seems addressing the elephant in the room was way too off-message for the Ethereum co-founder.

Rainbow staking

In the meantime, the Ethereum enthusiasts in Taipei attending the conference at a former bottle cap factory called Popop dove into the arcana of decentralised finance.

In a keynote address delivered to a packed hall, Buterin talked about centralisation risks in the ecosystem, the barriers to people becoming validators, and “rainbow staking.”

His audience lapped it up, with hundreds of mobile phones pointed in his direction to capture his presentation.

As for what may happen if Ether is deemed a security by US authorities, that has yet to be addressed.

The Ethereum Foundation has not commented on the news that three companies were subpoenaed by the SEC for information related to the network.

This is a massive issue — if Ether and other altcoins are legally defined as securities then their issuers would have to register them with regulators before they can be offered on exchanges such as Coinbase or Kraken.

Pre-approved questions

While such a decision would almost certainly be challenged by the industry in court, it would also create a period of uncertainty just as institutional investors are finally embracing crypto as a bona fide asset class.

Which brings me back to the Buterin group interview and its restrictive setup.

Questions were submitted in advance and asked by one of ETHTaipei’s organisers rather than the assembled reporters. You couldn’t ask follow-up questions or seek clarification.

The pre-approved questions run the range from cooking and travel to human longevity and AI, interspersed with technical explanations on the minutiae of various aspects of Ethereum.

True believers

It felt more like watching an IRL webinar than a press conference. The format, needless to say, was hardly conducive to the open source, transparency-at-all-costs ethos Buterin has prescribed for DeFi.

Then again, the censorship vibe wasn’t all that surprising.

At Token 2049 in September last year, Changpeng Zhao, then the CEO of Binance, waxed lyrical about NFT use cases during his talk rather than the regulatory pressure his company was confronting in the US and other nations.

And among the true believers in Taipei, few seem fazed by the format.

The conference’s devs and fans are far more interested in verkle trees and zero knowledge roll-ups than regulatory battles on the other side of the world.

And Ether surged almost 10% on Thursday.

Callan Quinn is DL News’ Hong Kong correspondent. Get in touch at callan@dlnews.com.