Brick & em? Maybe not anymore.
What was once a phrase that echoed through message boards, one that defined an aggressive change of feeling towards companies that today make the hardware necessary to run cryptocurrency software, is falling out of fashion while the so-called " War to the Miners "enters less decisive period.
Indeed, in the wake of new research and analysis, leading developers now seem to believe that hindering a changing mining landscape may be hopeless. At least, this was the testimony of many blockchain software developers at the 2018 Consensus, which indicated that the recent distribution of hardware-based Bitmain ASIC miniseries is proof of their inevitability for all cryptocurrencies.
However, the controversies surrounding the idea of optimized mining hardware will soon be available for previously resistant cryptocurrencies to the ASIC (including ethereum, monero and zcash) that have continued to grow.
Because chips force mining generic-use hardware, such as graphics cards or GPUs, from the market, every cryptocurrency has witnessed efforts to implement software changes so that hardware can no longer function. Monero, the thirteenth largest cryptocurrency, for example, is committed to changing its underlying algorithm.
Leading the defense is the ideological conviction that sufficient competitors are missing, the ASIC producer Bitmain commands a too large part of the network share, a market reality that threatens to weaken the open and decentralized participation to which the cryptocurrencies aspire.
"You have the centralization of the producers and you also have the centralization of consumers.You have this kind of constant clustering," Riccardo "fluffypony" Spagni, a main developer of Monero, told CoinDesk.
For now, monero is willing to do it alone, with regular anti-ASIC updates that aim to keep ASIC hardware out of the network until ASIC becomes ubiquitous, like USB drives, so they can be managed by a larger pool of participants.
"Ultimately the ASIC resistance is futile, but between now and then, before capitulating to the ASIC, we resist as long as possible until ASICs are not traded," Spagni told CoinDesk.
However, given the financial incentives at stake – the optimized hardware can quickly dominate a network, and swallow the premiums in exchange for the increased power of hashes – others have warned that ASIC producers will always be a step ahead.
David Vorick, chief developer of siacoin and founder of ASIC Obelisk, told CoinDesk:
"I think any coin extracted from the GPU will become an extracted ASIC coin at some point, and Bitmain has been quite methodical in demonstrating it."
The weapon of money
In other words, this means that crypto developers believe that innovations in the development of mining chips will continue to increase at a comparable rate compared to decisions to mitigate them.
What is different now, however, is that there are new anecdotal and statistical evidence to support this. According to Vorick's estimates, which have now become widespread, ASIC manufacturers are moving faster than the anti-ASIC code.
In addition, Vorick claims that software developers have underestimated the flexibility of the hardware.
"At this point there is no single ASIC resistance algorithm that our chip developers have looked at and said they could not do," said Vorick.
Written by a software developer who was trying to start mining, these words had a weight.
Speaking with CoinDesk, founder of zcash and CEO of Zcash Company, Zooko Wilcox echoed these points, observing how the work influenced his thoughts on the subject. Ultimately, he now believes that the ASIC will continue, simply because the economy of beating the competition in the mining encryption is so favorable to those who do it.
"Literally for zcash, I would not be surprised if you could launch a project, take according to Vorick's estimates, three or four months to get it distributed and in 48 hours you'd make more money than you spent," Wilcox told CoinDesk.
Although a significant part of the zcash community spoke against the hardware, Wilcox said he did not intend to interrupt the current development cycle to implement the anti-ASIC code.
While Wilcox has several reasons to take this position – especially not to interfere with a next update – he added that the ASIC resistance is subject to manipulation, simply because of the high incentives at stake.
"It's a bit like you have a lot of money and you're saying that I'm just turning this all in random directions, spraying money to random recipients, and it's enough money that this will focus all of your attention on you, and people will try to influence you and ask you to justify which direction you're aiming for, "said Wilcox.
"Surely I do not want to be in that position."
Two sectors in disagreement
And even if software developers continue to fight, Vorick warned of something he calls "ASIC secret".
The idea is that more experienced producers could even secretly build the innovations of the mining chips and instead release them on the market, keep them to themselves to win prizes.
"I think it's safe to assume that every test currency of work with a premium of over $ 20 million over the last year has at least one group of secret ASICs that are currently being extracted on it, or will have an ASIC secret that he's digging inside some months, "wrote Vorick in a blog post.
Bitmain himself quickly dismissed Vorick's writings as a "conspiracy theory", but Vorick's position is reinforced by his own foray into ASIC production. Last year, Obelisk started building its own siacoin ASIC – one that contained a secret switch to ward off competitors – but was beaten on the market by Bitmain.
According to Vorick, these types of tricks are typical.
"It's because it's a zero-sum game, especially for the mining industry, if your proponent is better, of course you lose money," he told CoinDesk.
Wilcox echoed this, stating that secrecy is reduced, so that mining pools refuse to share data and the remaining community can no longer analyze the network.
"It's an interesting juxtaposition in the world of cryptocurrencies," Wilcox told CoinDesk, "the development process and the social environment of developers is at most open, but the mining environment is very reserved."
Looking ahead, Vorick said that software developers will try to control the mining landscape through a strategic partnership with hardware vendors in the early stages of development.
Projects could share their code with ASIC producers from the beginning, in exchange for some promises in return, so that ASICs are equally distributed, and a community of cryptocurrencies gets the first choice.
He told CoinDesk:
"So this takes the great advantage of Bitmain, which is that they are always the first to market with everything and move away from it."
But there are signs that even Bitmain is moving in a cooperative direction.
For example, Wilcox shared the notes of a video call with the company's CEO, Jihan Wu, to discuss the communication difficulties of the respective groups. According to Wilcox, Wu said that people have exploited the communication gap to fuel the distrust surrounding society.
"We have never done a stealth mining strategy," Wu said.
Following the meeting, Bitmain published a blog post published Friday, stating that an exercise in "radical transparency" would be explored regarding the shipment of the zcash ASICs.
To allow the zcash community to prepare for the hashrate increase, the company said it would tweet in real time when the hardware is shipped, as well as the time of purchases.
Speaking with CoinDesk, PR representative for Bitmain Nishant Sharma said the company is making an effort to interact with software communities. "You may have noticed that our communications have become steadily more proactive and reactive in recent months, we expect this to continue," Sharma said.
Further research by software developers in the hardware landscape could also help the situation.
For example, while the zcash company does not intend to move away from ASICs, the Zcash Foundation is starting up anti-ASIC research, also trying to better determine the breakdown of the mining network.
Going forward, Wilcox said that it is possible that the cryptocurrency will support both the extraction of GPUs and ASICs on separate networks.
Wilcox told CoinDesk:
"There is no reason why a blockchain fork in two mutually incompatible technologies should become a social schism in mutually antagonistic communities, but you can have only one community and people in it use both technologies."
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