Taipei Ethereum Meetup: Sharding, Scaling and Solutions

Right to left: Karl Floersch, Vitalik Buterin, Jon Choi, Philip Daian, Vlad Zamfir, Robert Habermeier and Justin Drake.

Onstage at the GIS TAIPEI TECH Convention Center on March 21, the panelists of the Taipei Ethereum Meetup discussed the technology that they think will build the future.

“[The blockchain] is a new kind of international institution and the basis for the creation of new international institutions,” said Vlad Zamfir, developer of the Casper CBC Ethereum upgrade. Other panelists agreed, talking about the potential for the blockchain beyond ICOs.

Jon Choi, an Ethereum researcher with a focus on cryptonomics, mentioned the potential for “an economic linking between major cities like LA and Paris and Tokyo that don’t have any nation-state ties but could have a ledger with each other.”

None of that will be possible, however, until Ethereum’s researchers figure out a way to solve the blockchain’s scalability problem. As Ethereum grows, so does the amount of data its main chain has to handle, making blocks more difficult to process.

This slows down transactions for all users, and runs the risk of centralization as less powerful nodes become unable to handle the sheer amount of data. Cryptocurrency researchers hope that Ethereum will someday reach the saturation level that would allow it to change the world, but it isn’t ready yet.

Many think sharding is the solution that will finally make Ethereum scale. Put very simply, sharding is the process of breaking up blocks in the blockchain into smaller, more manageable chunks that are easier and faster to process. (For more information, try Hsiao-Wei Wang’s sharding explainer here.)

At the Taipei Ethereum Meetup, panelists opened up about what they called the interesting challenges of implementing sharding: maintaining security on different devices, inter-shard communications and keeping Ethereum generic and running trustlessly.

Sharding is what the cryptocurrency community calls a Layer 1 solution (a direct upgrade to Ethereum’s main blockchain), but panelists also touched on another approach to scaling: Layer 2 solutions, which use off-chain messages to affect the main chain’s contracts.

State channels have participants interact off-chain as much as possible, often only sending the final results of an interaction to the main chain. Plasma, another Layer 2 solution, creates smaller child-chains that link to the main chain, an idea that many Taipei-based research groups have used as a launching point. Infinitechain, for example, uses sidechains to make the blockchain viable for centralized institutions.

No matter how Ethereum develops in the future, however, one thing is clear: the community in Taipei is one to keep an eye on. Raul Jordan of Prysmatic Labs called Taipei one of the major hubs for Ethereum development, and one look around the Taipei Ethereum Meetup found a wealth of developers and community members dedicated to Ethereum, from academics to Ethereum Foundation members to many of Taipei’s different blockchain-based companies and startups.

If Ethereum is going to change the world, much of that change is going to start right here.

For a livestream of the panel, go to the meetup’s Youtube page. More information about the Meetup and their events can be found on their Facebook and their Medium.

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