Ethereum Co-Founder Vitalik Buterin published a detailed progress report on major cryptographic challenges for the last five years. While protocol problems were largely solved, more practical issues saw limited progress.
Buterin made a post in 2014 detailing a list of 16 “hard problems” in math, computer science and economics that he considered important for the cryptocurrency space. These include commonly known technical issues such as blockchain scaling and proof of stake implementations. Practical economic questions were also present, largely focused on providing fully decentralized alternatives to existing societal mechanisms. Progress has been lackluster for most entries in the list, though some of the problems were solved on a theoretical level. However, even the challenges that saw the most progress have yet to be fully battle-tested.
Core Issues Were Solved
Buterin considers blockchain scalability to be largely solved, at least from a theoretical point of view. Taking into account only sharding designs, he mentioned OmniLedger, LazyLedger and Zilliqa as alternative solutions to the upcoming Ethereum 2.0. Practice is a different matter, however, as he highlighted that “fully sharded blockchains have still not been seen in live operation.” Only Zilliqa made progress through a partially sharded implementation.
Proof of computation — the ability to cryptographically prove that a certain calculation was performed correctly — has progressed a lot in five years according to Buterin. Zero-knowledge proof technologies such as SNARKs and STARKs are now “increasingly well understood” with several proofs of concept such as STARKDEX being released.
Issues with efficiency remain, but they are generally “in the details rather than the fundamentals.”
ASIC resistance was solved shortly after the initial list was published, Buterin asserts. Ethereum’s Ethash algorithm uses a memory-heavy approach where ASICs are unable to significantly improve…