Vitalik Buterin is soft-spoken, pale, and practically skeletal. He likes to wear “My Little Pony”–style T-shirts. A child of Russian émigrés, he grew up in the Toronto suburbs and, even as a tiny boy, knew he was different from other children. Infatuated with numbers, Vitalik had a favorite toy as a small child: it was called Microsoft Excel. In an early photo, a pint-size Vitalik can be seen standing on a chair, gleefully tapping figures into a spreadsheet.
As a teenager, he was eccentric. He wore mismatched Hello Kitty socks and ate lemons, including the rinds. At the urging of his libertarian father, Dmitry, he took an interest in the cryptocurrency called bitcoin. He soon became absorbed. While still in high school, he launched ...