The Zcash Foundation has announced that it will make maintaining ASIC resistance an “immediate technical priority” in response to Chinese mining hardware manufacturer Bitmain’s claim that is has developed an application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) miner that is compatible with the Equihash mining algorithm.
In a statement penned by executive director Josh Cincinnati, the Zcash Foundation said that it will immediately begin devoting resources to investigating the “presence and power of ASICs on the Zcash network,” as well as convene a technical advisory board to provide “scientifically grounded inputs” on the matter.
As CCN reported, Bitmain announced last week that it would begin shipping the first Equihash ASIC miner — the Antminer Z9 mini — in June. ASICs are significantly more efficient than miners powered by general-purpose GPU chips, and most people believe that Bitmain has already been mining with them privately.
Once they begin shipping to the general public, the Zcash mining landscape will be permanently altered, because the project must either make peace with the presence of ASICs — which at present centralize hashpower into the hands of a small number of companies — or commit to taking drastic measures (likely on a regular basis) to thwart the ability of these devices to operate on the Zcash network.
Monero, for instance, has committed to updating its mining algorithm semi-annually to make it more difficult for ASIC manufacturers to disrupt XMR mining, and it adopted an emergency update after Bitmain released the first Cryptonight ASIC miner.
However, even the most ardent ASIC critics acknowledge that resistance to these devices cannot be maintained indefinitely.
“Even if we manage to neuter a wave of Equihash ASICs, this will not be the end of the discussion. Inevitably, some new ASIC will arise, and we may have to go through this process again,” Cincinnati wrote.
Even though it is moving forward with research on how to maintain ASIC resistance, the Foundation still intends to bring the matter before the community through its conventional ballot and election process.
Pending community approval, the upgrade will likely be deployed in late 2018, several months after the first Equihash ASIC miners hit the market.
But while this course may mitigate the problem in the short-term Cincinnati warned that a long-term solution will require a significant re-framing of the ASIC debate.
“I’m all for a Sisyphean effort now and again, but perhaps there is a better solution—one that subverts the entire ‘ASIC resistance’ debate?,” Cincinnati said. “Eventually we will need one, because I’m not sure how sustainable the whack-a-mole strategy will be for the community.”
“There has to be a better way—and I think it starts with reframing the discussion away from ‘ASIC resistance’ and towards the perceived goals of ASIC resistance—decentralization, less concentrated proof of work, and accessibility to the network,” he concluded. “But in the meantime, we must act, and act we shall.”