A month after the hack—and mere days after presiding over a controversial vote to initiate a “hard fork” process that would recover the DAO’s stolen funds and make whole its backers—Vitalik Buterin is listening impassively to a guy wearing a beanie cap shaped like a Pokémon dragon. “This is a really tricky game,” says the man in the hat, an assistant professor of computer engineering, as he excitedly begins to lay out a complicated logic puzzle. But before he can get too far, Buterin quietly interrupts with a clever solution. “Oh,” says the Pokémon prof, crestfallen. “That’s actually pretty cool.”
Buterin (No. 31 on 2016 40 Under 40 list), a 22-year-old coder, is visiting the Cornell University campus for a boot camp organized by IC3, or the Initiative for Cryptocurrencies Contracts, an academic consortium that researches peer-to-peer payment systems. Roughly two-dozen programmers are gathered around a long conference table inside Gates Hall (as in Bill and Melinda), the brand-new, steel-plated home to Cornell’s computing and information science departments. The air is thick with talk of “stochastic dominance,” “Merkle trees,” and “zk-SNARKs.”
Although he’s among the youngest in the room, Buterin is indisputably the star of the group.