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Vitalik Buterin Offers His Take on the Role of AI in the Future of the Ethereum Blockchain

How AI can make the Ethereum blockchain better

Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin has pinpointed AI as a potential tool in tackling one of Ethereum's most significant technical hurdles: the presence of deep-seated bugs in its code. Buterin's enthusiasm stems from AI's potential in formal verification of code and bug identification, a critical need given Ethereum's complexity and the high stakes involved. On February 18, he expressed his optimism on X, stating, 

"Right now Ethereum's biggest technical risk probably is bugs in code, and anything that could significantly change the game on that would be amazing." 

This insight comes at a crucial time as Ethereum approaches the launch of its Dencun upgrade, aimed at enhancing the blockchain's functionality and security. Despite the promising outlook, the upgrade's journey has not been without its challenges, highlighted by a hiccup during its testnet phase, underscoring the need for promising solutions like AI in ensuring Ethereum's reliability.

AI in action: successes and challenges

The integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in identifying and rectifying bugs within Ethereum's codebase has shown promising yet mixed results. In July 2023, OpenZeppelin embarked on a series of experiments using OpenAI's GPT-4 to pinpoint security vulnerabilities in Solidity smart contracts, a core component of Ethereum's programming architecture. These trials saw GPT-4 successfully identifying issues in 20 out of 28 challenges, demonstrating AI's potential in enhancing the security of Ethereum-based applications. 

However, the experiments were not without their drawbacks. At times, GPT-4 failed to detect flaws, which, albeit quickly correctable upon further prompting, raised concerns. More notably, there were instances where the AI generated non-existent vulnerabilities, leading to questions about the reliability and accuracy of using AI in this context.

Exploration into AI's capabilities and limitations in securing Ethereum's code underscores the technology's nascent state and the careful consideration required in its application.

Balancing optimism and caution

Vitalik Buterin's stance on leveraging Artificial Intelligence (AI) within Ethereum's framework is one of cautious optimism. While he champions the potential of AI in addressing critical technical risks, such as bug detection in Ethereum's code, he also underscores the necessity of prudence, especially when AI intersects with high-stakes blockchain applications.

His concerns are echoed by industry experts like Kang Li, chief security officer at CertiK, who points out that AI-powered tools, including ChatGPT, often introduce more security issues than they resolve. Li emphasizes that AI should serve as an assistant to experienced coders rather than a replacement, highlighting its value in improving efficiency for tasks like code analysis and reverse engineering.

Kang Li:

“I think ChatGPT is a great helpful tool for people doing code analysis and reverse engineering. It’s definitely a good assistant, and it’ll improve our efficiency tremendously.”

Buterin's vision for AI in Ethereum's future is not without its warnings. He has previously advised developers to exercise caution, particularly in deploying AI alongside "high-risk" applications such as oracles or prediction markets. The potential for AI to be exploited in these contexts poses a significant risk, with Buterin cautioning: 

"if someone builds e.g. a prediction market or a stablecoin that uses an AI oracle, and it turns out that the oracle is attackable, that’s a huge amount of money that could disappear in an instant."

This balanced approach reflects a broader understanding of both the transformative potential and the inherent risks of integrating AI with blockchain technology.