Vitalik’s Quantum Quest

First, a Little History

In 2013, the Bitcoin world was a much different place. The Bitcoin securities exchanges were booming. [note]MPEX, BTCTC, Bitfunder, Havelock Investments, and a few other less ‘reputable’ ones.[/note] Bitcoiners, scammers, noobs, and the otherwise well-intentioned were all issuing their own virtual securities for bonds, mining contracts, mining difficulty derivatives, and a wide range of startup businesses.

That whole scene, combined with the first real bloom of altcoins [note]Thanks to automated website services that would let you choose your own magic numbers for any altcoin, and then spit out the source code for a small fee, all you needed was a logo and a dream![/note], was really the inspiration for all the next-wave offerings like ICOs [note]Initial coin offerings, sorta like IPOs for shitcoins.[/note], appcoins, blockchain tokenized shares, and pre-mine schemes.

Honestly, things were pretty fun back then. It was the Wild West of Bitcoin Finance. Everyone was trying to be their own crypto version of a broker, issuer, fundraiser, or investment bank. If you weren’t getting scammed, you were probably a scammer. There was a ton of drama to trade on [note]Look into the full history of ASICMINER, and its stock offering, for example.[/note], and oodles of arbitrage opportunities across exchanges.

Alas, one too many scams, hacks, and Ponzi schemes caused a number of complaints to be filed with the SEC, leading to a chilling of all issuers into ceasing their efforts, and the shutdown of every crypto securities exchange within the SEC’s sphere of influence.

You Too Can Invest in Quantum Mining!

All of this lays the foundation for a specific story from that year. Since Bitcoiners seemed to be aching for places to put their money to work, there was no shortage of people with their hands out. Two of those people included Vitalik Buterin and Jordan Ash.

I don’t know much about Jordan Ash [note]Nor do I know know much about quantum computing, for the record![/note], other than that he has an interest in quantum computing [note]Why Turing Machines Are Quantum, by Jordan Ash, Sept 2013 [/note] and spent some time soliciting investment in various Bitcoin-related IRC channels in 2013. [note]Some of these conversations are surely logged at and elsewhere.[/note] Most people in the chat rooms were extremely skeptical of his claim that he could successfully develop quantum Bitcoin-mining technology utilizing normal computing hardware.

Jordan was fairly persistent, yet unsuccessful, in his efforts to raise funds, but after a couple weeks he disappeared and everyone moved on.

None of this was terribly abnormal back then.

The Big Pitch: Bitcoin Europe 2013

Fast forward to October 2013, at the first European Bitcoin convention, in Amsterdam. Back then, Bitcoin conferences were nothing like the swanky sort of Consensus 2016 events we get today, but this one was sort of a big deal nonetheless. I had been to Amsterdam before and enjoyed the trip, so that was a good enough excuse for me to embrace my inner Bitcoiner and fly back out there for the show.

That was where I met a number of Bitcoin bigshots in person for the first time. I got to ask Charlie Lee when Coinbase would be listing Litecoin. [note]This was just after he landed the job at Coinbase, yet LTC STILL hasn’t been listed![/note] Mike Hearn was douche, of course. Danny Brewster was an eager lad with a plan. Good times all around!

During one of the lunchtime breaks, the announcer informed the crowd that an unscheduled presentation would take place, encouraging everyone to check it out. The presentation was given by Jordan Ash, newly paired with Vitalik Buterin. [note]I do not think there is any video of the presentation, but if anyone can track it down, let me know![/note]

Keep in mind that this is all well before Ethereum and the Ether crowd sale that Buterin would later participate in. This is a glimpse into an alternate reality that could have been, a reality where we all used our bitcoins to pay Vitalik to dominate and kill Bitcoin!

Vitalik & Jordan stood on stage explaining a bit about how they could use some approximation of quantum computing to successfully mine on the Bitcoin network at extreme hash rates, effectively allowing them to secretly print money using their exclusive advantage. They explained that they needed more money to be able to create this quantum wonder, but assured the crowd that any investor would gain their proportionate share of the plethora of bitcoins they would later mine with their magical quantum mining machine.

They then directly solicited the crowd for investment.

Thankfully, they also opened to the floor to questions from the crowd. Being that I’m not qualified to assess or criticize the scientific issues related to their quantum plans, I didn’t bother to do so. Instead, I wanted to make it clear to them how flawed their plan was.

I don’t remember the exact wording of the questions I asked them, nor do I wholly recall their answers, but I do remember the gist of the conversation.

I asked how and when they intended to help make Bitcoin quantum-resistant within their plan. Vitalik waxed on how Bitcoin might be made quantum-resistant but expressed that could always be worked on after they had implemented their own quantum mining.

I asked whether they intended to open-source their work. They implied that they would consider it after they were able to mine a sufficient number of Bitcoins.

I asked why they would focus on using quantum computing on Bitcoin instead of any number of higher value targets they might be able to crack. I asked whether they had considered the greater ramifications of breaking SHA-256.

I’m pretty sure I left my most important question for last. I’m also pretty sure they didn’t have any real answer. I asked them if they had considered that if they were to succeed, they would essentially be centralizing the network under their total control and exploiting all other users, as well as their investors. I pointed out that exclusively quantum-mining Bitcoin would more than likely result in the death of that Bitcoin fork, making the pile of coins they mine potentially worthless.

Who Cares?

I’m sorry that this is just one man’s first-hand account of something that happened 3 years ago. I don’t have any particular desire to badmouth the people involved. This is just a story that people keep asking about; an interesting story that not many people got to witness.

Below is a video of a related presentation Mr. Buterin gave a few weeks later. It’s not the same pitch I witnessed, but at least it proves Vitalik has crossed paths with quantum Bitcoin topics.

I hope my account of history at least serves as an interesting glimpse into Bitcoin’s past!


Here is a post where Saint Maxwell recalls his experience with this.

Here are some tweets from others:

The final paragaph of this post has been edited so as not to trigger Peter VanValkenburgh πŸ˜‰

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