Everyone interested has seen this coming:
The Bitcoin network is designed to specialise only in payments. It is difficult, and in many cases impossible, to program more complex transactions into it. But [Vitalik] Buterin’s Toronto-based company, Ethereum, is building a new kind of blockchain system that would make these more complex transactions easy to design and execute. […] ‘Instead of specialising for each individual application,’ Buterin continues, ‘you come up with a programming language, and then that programming language is so powerful that you can build any application on top of it.’ Ethereum’s language is so flexible that it is, in the jargon, ‘Turing complete’. And so its distributed network will (in theory) be able to host and administer anything from asset-trading platforms and escrow services to the sale or rental of any resource connected to the internet, such as hosting, data or processing power. The terms of every sale, trade or agreement would be encoded into the system, their trustworthiness ensured by the swarm of hosts running it.
Transactions would be paid for using Ethereum’s own Bitcoin-like cryptocurrency, called Ether, which would also be used to pay the system’s hosts. And just as with Bitcoin, the ability of these constructs to securely cross national borders and attract a mutable swarm of hosts means that no one – not hackers, not competitors, and not governments – will be able to shut them down. Code will be the new financial law. We are talking about companies that run themselves, at the very limits of human oversight.
Out of time as his 30-minute talk draws to a close, Buterin rattles through a final slide which lists functions that could be built using his tools: reputation systems, crop insurance, gambling. The final point on the list reads: ‘Skynet?’ …
(Thanks to dmf for the pointer.)