Vitalik Buterin, born in Kolomna, Russia, moved to Toronto with his family in 1999, just before his sixth birthday. In 2013, at age 19, the former University of Waterloo student wrote what is known as the Ethereum white paper. Three-and-a-half years later Ethereum and its cryptocurrency token payment system known as Ether, were worth US$7 billion and Buterin was being celebrated as its co-founder and one of the architects of Web 3.0.

Buterin was back in Waterloo this weekend where he delivered the keynote address and served as a judge at ETHWaterloo, billed as the world’s largest Ethereum hackathon.

Communitech News caught up with Buterin for a few minutes just before ETHWaterloo’s closing ceremony Sunday. He addressed his sudden fame, the future of blockchain, and the role that Waterloo can play in its development:

Q – Tell me about the weekend. What did you think?

A – It was great. I was happy to see so many people here and so much interest and attention.

Q – It must be good to be back in Waterloo ...

A – It definitely is.

Q – You’ve achieved a great deal of fame very quickly. The Financial Post late last June called you the “cryptocurrency prophet.” What is it like to be sought after for selfies and celebrated as a celebrity at age 23?

A – It’s unusual. Sometimes I don’t know how to feel. It’s just … weird. I’d rather not be a prophet.

Q – The technology giants – Facebook, Google, Amazon and the like – have generated a great deal of criticism lately for a variety of behaviours. Is the decentralized nature of Ethereum the cure for what ails technology?

A – It definitely is one thing that people are excited about – the whole idea of decentralized applications is that you can have applications that lots of people use without one guy being fully in charge. That is definitely an idea that can be … interesting, and one of the big reasons we’re excited.

Q – The people attending ETHWaterloo all understand the potential of Ethereum and blockchain technology. The average person on the street however would, at best, likely have only a vague idea of the concepts and probably no understanding of its value or how it is likely to affect their life. How do you bridge that gap?

A – I think the main barriers right now are technical ones. So, basically, the scalability is not that good yet. Privacy is not that good yet. It’s going to take a while for all the tools to get built. Safety is going to improve, user experience is going to improve and it will just take a few years for all that to get there.

Q – What role can Waterloo Region play in its development?

A – I think there’s a very strong math and science community here. They’re exactly the right kind of people to build great blockchain applications and possibly become developers and researchers.

Q – What is the value of a hackathon like this one?

A – Hackathons are a great way to bring people together, bring ideas together, and very often get interesting projects started. I think those things are all very valuable. I liked this hackathon in particular because it felt like it was a hackathon and a conference at the same time, and you had some of both, and I thought that was very interesting.