Vitalik Buterin opposes Ethereum anti-ASIC fork

Posted: 11 April 2018 7:56 pm
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Vitalik Buterin remains unperturbed by the potential threat of Ethereum ASIC miners.

EIP 958, otherwise known as "Ethereum Improvement Proposal: Modify block mining to be ASIC resistant" was a popular one. It suggested the network take a stand against allowing high-powered ASIC mining gear on the network, by a hard fork if necessary. Over 1,000 people chose to show support for it, while less than 50 opposed it.

It wasn't a vote though. The proposal was simply meant to gauge sentiment and open up discussion around the topic.

The issue was addressed in a recently streamed meeting of Ethereum core developers, during which Ethereum creator and nominal chief Vitalik Buterin said he felt that the current situation, and the complexities involved in the fork, didn't justify the downside of the changes.

"Getting everybody to upgrade is likely to be fairly chaotic and detract from more important things. So, at this point I personally lean quite significantly towards no action," he said.

"Worst case scenario is basically like that BitMain controls a very large portion of the Ethereum network for some period of time," Buterin added. "This is not Bitcoin, right? Miners are not in control here. If there comes a day when they have majority hashpower and try to use it for evil, then it will basically just speed up Casper development."

Casper refers to the Ethereum network's planned switch to proof of stake, which will render the coin unminable anyway. The proposal to fork away from ASIC miners in the meantime is more of a temporary measure to prevent one party from getting too much control of the network.

While the Ethereum community tends to be very vocal about the issue of mining, and keen on keeping the recently revealed AntMiner E3 Ethereum ASIC miner out of the picture, Buterin's relaxed take is probably warranted.

Firstly, the newly revealed Ethereum ASIC miner probably won't see too much uptake anyway. By the numbers, it will most likely be an expensive paperweight without anyone even trying, and probably won't be flying off the shelves in any great hurry.

Secondly, the Ethereum Casper update that Buterin mentions would eventually solve the problem anyway. An anti-ASIC fork would just be a temporary measure and would distract the team from working towards it. It would likely also be a chaotic affair, as hard forks tend to be.

Thirdly, there are more organic ways of slowing down ASIC miners on the Ethereum network. The advantage of ASIC is that it's extremely fast, although in the case of Ethereum it's constrained by memory issues and might only be about 2 to 3 times faster than a GPU, rather than hundreds of times faster the way bitcoin miners are. The disadvantage is that they're made for extremely specific purposes and can't be reprogrammed. The Ethereum network can handle a wide range of different transaction types, some of which would cause ASIC miners to struggle while GPUs are fine.

If it comes to it, Buterin has previously suggested, Ethereum users can "poison the well" by introducing a load of anti-ASIC transaction types onto the network. This would be annoying and somewhat expensive, but it might also be an effective stop-gap measure to keep ASICs out of harm's way until Casper is ready.

Disclosure: At the time of writing the author holds ETH, IOTA, ICX, VEN, XLM, BTC, NANO

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