Analysis

Zuzalu and Ethereum’s Infinite Frontier

David descends on Montenegro to learn about AI, longevity, decentralized science, and more!
David Hoffman David Hoffman Jun 28, 20238 min read
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Zuzalu and Ethereum’s Infinite Frontier

Dear Bankless Nation,

Earlier this year, our very own David Hoffman descended on Montenegro for two months to join a community dedicated to speed running the most exciting conversations in frontier technologies.

Today, we dig into what Zuzalu was, why Vitalik was there and what you can learn from all of the podcast interviews Bankless conducted onsite!

- Bankless team


Have you heard of Zuzalu? If you were watching the Bankless podcast on YouTube, you may have noticed that I was away from home… for two whole months!

From March to May, I was in a small village in Montenegro. On the podcast, I briefly alluded to attending my first ever Ethereum hardfork event for Shapella, meeting a bunch of AI people, and going on a lot of regular morning cold plunges, but I never fully elaborated on what I was doing for these two months.

What was going on? What was the purpose? What was achieved?

Vitalik Buterin from Ethereum, Emad Mostaque from Stable Diffusion, and Grimes from… Grimes… all walk onto a stage… No, this isn’t the setup for a punchline… this was Zuzalu! 

Have you heard of Zuzalu?

Zuzalu was a two-month long informal university for frontier technologies – all combined with an experiment in temporary community. Each week, various tech industry leaders curated workshops on topics related to emerging fields poised to shake up the platforms that our society operates on.

via Zuzalu

Before I tell you about my version of Zuzalu and what it meant, I’ll toss out some recent headlines on Zuzalu for you to digest:

Zuzalu is tough to pigeonhole. While Zuzalu may have been Vitalik’s brainchild, it was by no means led by him. You can see more on his initial vision in our interview further down. 👀

Much like Etheruem, Zuzalu had a set of ‘core devs’ or the ‘Zuzalu core team’ that did the coordination, agenda setting and community management. Defining who was ‘in’ or ‘out’ of the core team was left to rough consensus. All ideas were valid and accepted, but in order to actually steer the Zuzalu ship, individuals had to commit to their ideas and execute them via their own leadership.

What exactly Zuzalu was is up for interpretation. Zuzalu was a choose-your-own adventure of frontier technologies including:

  • 🦾 Artificial Intelligence
  • 🌳 Longevity
  • 🌆 Network-States, New Cities, and ‘Coordi-Nations’
  • 🧮 Zero-Knowledge Cryptography
  • 🧫 Synthetic biology
  • ♻️ Public goods
  • and of course, underpinning it all… Ethereum

My Version of Zuzalu

Want to really learn what Zuzalu was all about? The people, the knowledge shared, the big takeaways, et cetera?

If you ask the 200 residents of Zuzalu what Zuzalu was, you’ll certainly get 200 different answers. But, Bankless Nation, what if I just showed you Zuzalu? And what if I had, say, recorded 18 podcast interviews with the entire spectrum of industry leaders there just for you all?

Zuzalu was a polymath’s dream – endlessly fascinating paradigm shifting technology rabbit holes, and a new topic each week! Towards the bottom of this article, you’ll find 8 episodes containing the 18 interviews I recorded at Zuzalu. Each episode is focused on a different emerging technology that was the topic of a week.

Do I want you to listen to every single one? Well… kinda. Do I expect you to? Absolutely not. Please, feel free to eject from rabbit holes that do not suit you in favor of the ones that do.

The content here is meant to help you front-run the opportunity. The future is going to be weird, and it’s going to be heavily framed by the frontier technologies presented here in these eight episodes. If you listen to all of them, you will be far more prepared for the next phases of technological advancement in society.


Frontier Technologies

Every week, a different industry was steering the Zuzalu ship.

At a cursory glance, all of these technologies are very different from each other — what does synthetic biology have to do with network states or cryptography? But, beneath the surface are a collection of shared values, common visions, and similar problems (incumbents and nation-states – GAH!)

Shout out to Woodstock-Rocker Phil Daian for the surreal picture opportunity

The cultural alignment between each industry was strong. Each is poised to bring drastic improvements to the human condition… if only we can solve some seemingly insurmountable problems.

The AI people see a world of perfect coordination… if only we can figure out how to avoid the traps of dystopia along the way.

The synthetic biology people see a world of perfect abundance and resource management in harmony with nature… if only we can figure out how to scale its generalizability.

The longevity people are trying to cure death, the final frontier of health… if only we could be given the freedom to experiment and innovate.

The network state people are trying to make governance competitive again… if only we could figure out how to establish jurisdictional independence and build new cities and countries from scratch.  

The zero-knowledge cryptography people are trying to figure out how to provide privacy-as-a-service to help each of these above industries… but first we need to figure out how to make zk cryptography 100x more manageable.

And lastly, there were the Ethereum people, who… actually I’ll save this for the end 😉

Life at Zuzalu

Zuzalu wasn’t just about cross-pollinating industries - Zuzalu itself was an experiment in what future “intentional communities” could look like. Zuzalians together… for two whole months.  Much more happened than just nerds talking about esoteric technologies!

Beyond the “daytime classes” around frontier tech, Zuzalians were given the opportunity to build a lifestyle from scratch. Zuzalu was a blank-slate for everyone who attended – it was up to each individual Zuzalian to determined what they wanted to make of it.

How would you life your life if you could pick and chose behaviors from scratch? What responsibility would you take on for the community? If you could become a community leader, how would you lead?  (If you’re curious about what I chose to lead – it was the daily 8 AM morning cold-plunge cult group 🥶)

A week-long conference is a break from your life, but in order to make the most of it, you’re sort of stuck with a very narrow set of optimal behaviors. In contrast, two months with 200 others becomes your life – and each Zuzalian was given the opportunity to redefine what that meant for them.

Zuzalu was meant to be a prototype for future intentional communities. If the Network State and New Cities people are correct, the world is shifting to become more nomadic, and international barriers will slowly loosen. The viability of temporary communities is going to increase, especially as Ethereum and digital financial infrastructure offer stronger economic and governance scaffolding for these communities to build on.

There was even infrastructure made at Zuzalu, for Zuzalians to self-organize, collect feedback, and curate events. The ‘Zu-Pass’ was the passport for Zuzalians, using zk-cryptography to keep Zuzalians private while enabling a community conversation space for the state and trajectory of the Zuzalu community.

Where We Organized

Montenegro wasn’t chosen at random. The 600,000-person country is potentially at the forefront of becoming one of the most tech-forward countries on earth.

I had the opportunity to give an Intro to Crypto talk to a number of Montenegrins, the majority of which said they had never learned anything about crypto before, ever. The excitement and enthusiasm with which they received the talk left me glowing with optimism on the prospect of Montenegrin culture accepting Web3 values into the fold.

Yet, the most exciting thing about Montenegro might be how open and willing Montenegrin government officials seem to be towards crypto. They appear ready to take the guidance of the crypto community and learn how to not only adopt crypto protocols, but also pioneer them within Montenegro’s own central bank and monetary programs. More on this… 🔜™

I had the opportunity to give a 10-minute presentation to the Prime Minister and President of Montenegro… but just before my talk started I was informed I only had 3 minutes… game on 😎

You can see most of the talk here:

A Note on Ethereum at Zuzalu

I had one major takeaway from Zuzalu – one that’s defined my outlook for what this industry has in store for it. Of all the frontier technologies that had presence at Zuzalu, Ethereum (crypto) was the most developed.

It seems to me that Ethereum is the eldest sibling of a bunch of frontier technologies, but it's waiting for its kin to come of-age. AI is in that moment, but it still has a lot of growing up to do. Meanwhile, Synthetic Biology, Longevity, Network States, DeSci… People have been working on these technologies for decades, but none have had their breakout moment in mainstream society.

Yet, all of these technologies will ultimately need Ethereum’s support when they come of age.

One of the central themes of Zuzalu was each industry attempting to lean on others to solve collective problems. Longevity people need Network States to further accelerate longevity research. Network States need Ethereum for governance and financial systems. DeSci needs Ethereum for capital coordination and resource allocation. Longevity and DeSci are both producing new forms of research together.

While there are many problems with today's money, it will take time for Ethereum to be accepted and legitimized into the ‘old world’. The banks will fight it, the regulators will ban it, and Congress will continue to move at a snail's pace. Meanwhile, Ethereum sits on its hands waiting, while other frontier technologies learn how to stand up.

Ethereum is in a weird spot – the old world is learning how to accept it, and much of the new world is still too new to use it. Eventually, time will solve both problems and we'll welcome a new future.


The Zuzalu Podcasts

Here you will find the collection of podcasts that I recorded at Zuzalu.

  1. 🟩 Zuzalu Preview and Interview with Vitalik
  2. 🤲 Coordinations and Network States
  3. 🧪 Synthetic Biology
  4. 👴 Longevity
  5. 🔬 Decentralized Science
  6. 🦾 AI alignment
  7. 🧮 New Frontiers of Cryptography
  8. 🌍 Crypto in Africa

These interviews range from as short as 20 minutes, to well over an hour. All interviews under the same category have been combined into the same episode, and the ordering of interviews inside of each episode has been optimized to carry you through from beginning to end.

If you are an avid Bankless fan and incessantly curious about all things sci-fi, then you might enjoy every single episode! If you aren’t sure about a particular subject matter, dip your toes in with the first interview of the episode… and if you don’t like it, eject yourself and choose another!

The gambit we are making is this: over time, all of the technology covered in these episodes will impact your life. At Bankless, we want you to front-run the opportunity… or at least be informed and prepared for the future. If you listen to every single one of these episodes, then you’ll be at an advantage in navigating what is certainly going to be an exciting, chaotic future ahead.

Happy learning 🫡

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David Hoffman

Written by David Hoffman

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Co-owner at Bankless. Optimistic storyteller of frontier technology.

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