What was once a phrase that echoed across message boards, one that defined an aggressive shift in sentiment against the companies that today make hardware required to run cryptocurrency software, is falling out a fashion as the so-called ‘War on Miners‘ enters a less decisive period.
Indeed, in the wake of new research and analysis, leading developers now appear to believe that standing in the way of a shifting mining landscape might be hopeless. At least, that was the testimony of many blockchain software developers at Consensus 2018, who indicated that hardware manufacturer Bitmain’s recent distribution of high-performance ASIC miners is proof of their inevitability for all cryptocurrencies.
Still, controversy surrounding the idea optimized mining hardware will soon be available for previously ASIC-resistant cryptocurrencies (including ethereum, monero and zcash) has continued to escalate.
Because the chips force more general-purpose mining hardware, such as graphic cards or GPUs, out of the market, each cryptocurrency has witnessed efforts to enact software changes so the hardware can no longer operate. Monero, the 13th largest cryptocurrency, for example, has committed to changing its underlying algorithm.
Driving the defense is the ideological belief that lacking sufficient competitors, ASIC manufacturer Bitmain commands too substantial a portion of the network share, a market reality that threatens to undermine the open, decentralized participation that cryptocurrencies strive for.
“You have centralization of manufacturers and you also have centralization of consumers. You have this sort of constant clustering,” Riccardo “fluffypony” Spagni, a lead developer at monero, told CoinDesk.
For now, monero is willing to go it alone, with regular anti-ASIC updates that aim to keep ASIC hardware off the network until such time that ASICs become ubiquitous, like USB drives, so that they can be run by a wider pool of participants.
“Ultimately ASIC resistance is futile but between now and then, before we capitulate to ASICs, let’s resist it for as long as possible until ASICs are commoditized,” Spagni told CoinDesk.
However, given the financial incentives at play – optimized hardware can quickly dominate a network, and swallow the rewards in exchange for the increased hashpower – others warned that ASIC manufacturers will always be a step ahead.
Lead developer of siacoin, David Vorick, told CoinDesk:
“I think any GPU-mined coin is going to become an ASIC-mined coin at some point. Bitmain has been pretty methodical about demonstrating this.”
The firehose of money
Put differently, this means that crypto developers believe that innovations in the development of mining chips will continue to increase at a comparable pace as decisions designed to mitigate them.
What’s different now, though, is that there is new anecdotal and statistical evidence to back this up. According to Vorick’s estimations, which have now been widely circulated, ASIC manufacturers move faster than anti-ASIC code.
On top of that, Vorick argues that software developers have underestimated the flexibility of hardware.
“At this point there’s no single ASIC resistance algorithm that our chip devs have looked at and said they couldn’t do,” Vorick said.
Written by a software developer who tried to start a mining business, these words carried weight.
Speaking to CoinDesk, founder of zcash and CEO of the Zcash Company Zooko Wilcox echoed these points, noting how the work has impacted his own thoughts on the subject. Ultimately, he now believes that ASICs will continue, simply because the economics of beating the competition in crypto mining are so favorable to those who do it.
“Literally for zcash, I wouldn’t be surprised if you can launch a project, take according to Vorick’s estimates, three or four months to get it deployed and in 48 hours you would make more money than you spent,” Wilcox told CoinDesk.
Although a significant portion of the zcash community have spoken out against the hardware, Wilcox has said he has no intention to disrupt the current development cycle in order to implement anti-ASIC code.
While Wilcox has several reasons for taking this stance – primarily so as not to interfere with an upcoming upgrade – he added that ASIC resistance is liable to manipulation, simply due to the high incentives at play…