- Despite the consensus among Core Devs, the ProgPow proposal, which aims to restore ASIC resistance, has been rejected by the wider Ethereum community
- Concerns concern security, free market ideals and the possibility of an avoidable chain
- Regardless of the final result, the debate on ProgPow will provide a meaningful insight into the informal governance process of Ethereum
The past few weeks Ethereum Core Dev Call concluded with a renewed discussion of ProgPow, a proposal to change the hashing algorithm of Ethereum, Ethash, which would reduce the performance gap between generalized and specialized hardware up to 90%.
The logic behind the adjustment of the algorithm speaks of the egalitarian ethics of Ethereum: the improvement of the efficiency of specialized hardware compared to the generalized one offers material advantages to ASIC holders, destroying any Satoshi's idea "a vote for a CPU" and concentrating the willpower in the hands of those who can exploit the economies of scale to allow more expensive machines.
Ethash, with its intensive memory usage requirements, was explicitly designed to be ASIC-resistant, as members and developers of the pioneering community expressed the fear of Bitmain's dominance in the Bitcoin mining landscape. Yet, the emergence of Bitmain Antminer E3 made it clear that Ethash was ultimately susceptible to specialization.
After a while back and forth between Alexey Akhunov and architect ProgPow Kristy-Leigh Minehan, Hudson Jameson of the Ethereum Foundation noted the consensus among the call participants, stating that ProgPow should go ahead in the coming months excluding the discovery of any important bugs during the test phase. The developers of the Ethereum 2.0 client suggested that the adaptation could be integrated within 2-3 weeks, while the update would go live in the next nine months.
However, despite the apparent agreement among Core Dev members, several prominent figures within the wider Ethereum community rejected the proposal, offering convincing refutations as to why ProgPow should not be prosecuted.
Perhaps the most pertinent argument against ProgPow comes in the form of the attack mounted against the Ethereum Classic network at the start of this week. With just 4.42% of Ethereum hash Power, estimates positions the cost of a 51% attack on Ethereum Classic at less than $ 5,000 an hour.
While it remains difficult to accurately evaluate the proportion of existing Powerower hashes provided by ASICs and at the same time unlikely that the implementation of ProgPow would result in a 96% decline in the hashpower network, ceteris paribus, the removal of ASIC will see a significant drop in cost necessary to attack the Ethereum network, thus opening the network to a debilitating attack.
In addition to reducing the absolute network hashpower, it is worth considering that a mining landscape dominated by the GPU influences the incentives of the aspiring aggressors. The generic nature of GPUs means that they can be easily downloaded after a 51% attack or aim for competing chains: on the contrary, any Ethash ASIC owner would only have the option to upgrade to Ethereum Classic, which is unlikely to provide the necessary economic rewards for offset the lost mining revenue on the currently profitable Ethereum chain. As a result, paradoxically, the vast capital expenditure and the inflexibility associated with specialized hardware could effectively discourage the launch of an attack, thus mitigating the risk of centralization associated with ASICs.
Moreover, despite the noble efforts to standardize the playing field for all the miners, we must ultimately accept that in the medium to long term the pure ASIC resistance is a mistake: at some point it becomes profitable to manufacture specialized hardware even if the & # 39; ASIC does not provide exponential efficiency benefits over GPUs. In this context, the introduction of ProgPow is but a short-term and unsustainable strategy.
As a "decentralized" network, there is not a single manifesto to which members of the Ethereum community subscribe, but the project's lacking nature suggests that participants have non-trivial respect for free markets.
While many will be in tune with ProgPow's attempt to seize power from large mining factories and return to the egalitarian roots of Ethereum, it is difficult to avoid the anti-competitive nature of the upgrade, which resists the innovative attitude of the industry. Ethereum ecosystem.
It is difficult to avoid drawing parallels between the ProgPow and Sia proposals decision to force their hashing algorithm to make Bitmain and Innosilicon ASICs unusable while pushing their Obelisk hardware.
As for the scenario Both, ProgPow will have winners and losers, the latter are manufacturers of hardware that have legitimately invested significant research and development resources in the production of specialized hardware. Meanwhile, ProgPow's nature favors the major incumbent manufacturers of GPU, Nvidia and AMD, both of which are major GPU suppliers and best positioned to develop ProgPow-ASIC. Ironically, the implementation of ProgPow can simply transfer the oligopolistic power from Bitmain and Innosilicon to Nvidia and AMD.
Disruption of the community
Without wishing to sensationalise, the controversial nature of ProgPow risks exacerbating the tensions within the Ethereum community, encouraging a division similar to that seen after the 2016 DAO debacle.
While Ethereum has long stolen the type of conservatism associated with Bitcoin, the overwhelming feeling among the members of today's community is a support for changes to the main protocol only in the face of existential crises or material improvements that will help achieve the final, constant state. it is clear.
The reversal of the DAO hack in 2016 was a prime example of an update that satisfied the previous condition, while the imminent transition to Proof of Stake clearly fulfills this last one. In reverse, EIP-999, which proposes to reverse the parus Multi-Sig snafu, has no obvious immediate advantages in addition to repaying the various individuals, and therefore the Core Devs wisely refrained from releasing funds.
It is difficult to justify the empirically non-quantifiable "decentralization" gains that could arise from ProgPow when considering the risk of a community-led division. We must consider the confusion that would occur in a scenario where ProgPow is integrated but only a small percentage of nodes update their clients and most hashpower remains with the Ethash chain. In that sequence of events, which of the two chains the community and the markets would consider legitimate & # 39; Ethereum?
Considering the absence of evidence that Ethereum is currently threatened by the centralization of miners, the safest option is simply to maintain the status quo and proceed along the well-defined roadmap to Serenity. ProgPow supporters argue that the transition from ASICs will effectively reduce the chances of future contests around Proof of Stake as ASIC producers, incentivized by their significant sunk costs, to spread fear, uncertainty and doubts about the imminent metamorphosis. However, the proof of the problem has been on the Ethereum roadmap since 2014 and has become a distinctive feature of the network which suggests it should be completely incontrovertible.
Regardless of the result of "Proposition ProgPow", the following weeks will provide valuable information on the governance process of Ethereum. Unlike the chain governance systems favored by EOS, Tezos and Decred, the decision-making process of Ethereum is based on soft-power and approximate, informal consensus among the various participants. While Core Dev Team members are trusted to proceed with technical decisions, the expanded community expects their opinions to be taken into consideration on more philosophical and economic issues such as ProgPow.
Now that many members of the community have expressed their concerns, despite the consensus among Core Devs, we should hope that ProgPow's implementation will be delayed pending further debates, research on safety effects and broad approval.
If ProgPow proceeds as planned, we must expect that various members of the community feel deprived of civil rights in what is likely to be the most controversial adjournment of the DAO. As such, ProgPow's implications extend far beyond the concentration of miners: they provide an insight into the future of the Ethereum decision-making process, the voices and opinions that will be respected and respected, and the stakeholders that will be ignored as a result.