Vitalik Buterin has set the next Ethereum’s milestones for 2017 and 2018. According to his paper ‘Opportunities and Challenges for Private and Consortium Blockchains’, Ethereum 3.0 with ‘unlimited’ scalability will be released in late 2018.

Ethereum’s success brought smart contracts in focus

The Ethereum platform has generated much furore of late particularly after the crowdfunding of The DAO - or the Decentralized Autonomous Organization - and the subsequent spike in the price of the currency of the platform, Ether, from less than a dollar to $15 in six months.

A sane level of clarity has also been achieved on the differences between Ethereum and the Bitcoin platform. This understanding, though still sinking, has enabled the two leading cryptocurrency platforms in the world to maintain their operating focus in specialized areas of interest. It also provided enthusiasts a clear view to make the best investment choices.  

Ethereum has been appreciated more for the popularity it has brought to smart contracts whose programming it’s made a basic tenet of Blockchain's power.

Future Ethereum’s milestones

However, despite the rave, the comparison with Bitcoin and the great expectation of the optimistic ETH ecosystem, the Ethereum projects’ currently expected future milestones are still set for between 2017 and 2018, according to Vitalik Buterin, a co-founder of Ethereum, in  his paper ‘Opportunities and Challenges for Private and Consortium Blockchains released by the R3 Consortium.’

  • Metropolis: release of the Mist browser, expected summer/fall 2016
  • Serenity (‘Ethereum 1.5’): release of the proof of stake (Casper) version of the Blockchain, also including Ethereum Improvement Proposals (EIPs) 101 and 105. Expected early 2017.
  • WebAssembly release (‘Ethereum 1.75’): faster virtual machine. Expected 2017.
  • Ethereum 2.0 (yet unnamed): initial scalability release. Expected late 2017.
  • Ethereum 3.0 (yet unnamed): ‘unlimited’ scalability release. Expected late 2018.

If these milestones are anything to go by, then nothing has yet happened in the ETH ecosystem.

From smartphone of blockchains to the world computer

As Buterin says, Ethereum’s vision is to be ‘the world computer,’ a platform where public economic consensus meets the abstraction power of a stateful Turing-complete virtual machine. It aims to be a platform which enables developers create applications easily benefiting from the decentralization and security properties of Blockchains without the need to create a new Blockchain for each new application. This is unlike previous protocols which are viewed as single function tools, like pocket calculators.

He writes:

“…Ethereum is the smartphone of Blockchains: a universal platform where, whatever you want to build, you can just build it as an ‘app’ and Ethereum users will be able to benefit from it immediately without downloading any new special software.”

All Blockchains have a notion of a history and a notion of a state transition rule, he explains, either which must produce positive answers for any transaction to be considered valid and included in a block. But in Ethereum, the design is somewhat more complicated as the state can be described as the set of all accounts, where each account is either an externally owned account (EOA) or a contract.

Contracts codes stored

As an EOA, the state simply stores the account's balance in ether and a sequence number is used to prevent transaction replay attacks. On the other hand, it stores the contract's code and its storage in a key-value database.

“In simple terms, rather than enforcing one specific set of rules targeted toward one particular application, Ethereum allows users to write programs specifying whichever rules they want, upload the programs to the Blockchain, and the Blockchain will interpret the rules for them,” he writes.

This could possibly explain why the contract mechanism has been used on the public Ethereum Blockchain. It has been used in many ways, including as databases, to keep track of issuer-backed assets, as ‘smart contracts’ such as financial contracts, escrow and multi-party protocols such as auctions, and as ‘software libraries.’  This allows code to be written and published to the Blockchain once and then used by anyone else.

Questions for Buterin

He stated: "The basic technical advantages of Blockchains, including reliability, security, auditability and decentralization, are now well understood, but what is less understood is the specific areas where these advantages shine…”  

How and when would the aspect be understood? And what is likely to change when the understanding has been established?

He also stated that “... a massively replicated Turing-complete state machine, to which anyone in the world with the ability to buy 0.3 cents worth of ether can upload code which every participant in the network will be forced to run on their local machine…”

This sounds like a platform that is envisaged to accommodate hundreds of millions of users. As such, it prompts the question if there would be a likelihood of increasing the user access fee in the future to stem the level of security concerns that may arise. Why?

While we wait

Meanwhile, while waiting to see new features unveiled, it is expedient to focus on related issues and their attendant impact on the Ethereum project.

With about $168 million poured into its formation by 10,000 investors, the success of The DAO is still being monitored as a test case.

However, with suggestions of it being a mess, what becomes of The DAO will likely reflect on Ethereum just as its ICO had about two months ago unless DAO investors - as well as the ETH ecosystem - realise that Rome was not built in a day.