Ethereum Core Developers Still Undecided on Move to ASIC-Resistant PoW Algorithm

Siamak Masnavi

On Friday (February 1), Ethereum's core developers held a meeting during which they discussed a change to Ethereum's Proof-of-Work (PoW) algorithm that would have reduce the efficiency of ASIC miners, thereby improving decentralization by increasing the attractiveness of GPU miners.

During Ethereum Core Devs Meeting #54, which was hosted by Hudson Jameson (a communications officer at the Ethereum Foundation), and included core developers such as Afri Schoedon ("Hardfork Coordinator"), Martin Holst Swende ("Security Lead"), Antoine Toulme, and Brett Robertson, one of the main topics discussed was ProgPow, a shorthand form of "Programmatic Proof-of-Work" that "can be seen as the successor of the Ethash algorithm with enhanced ASIC resistance."

Here are a couple of the things said about ProgPow at the core developers meeting on January 4:

  • Hudson Jameson said that he had heard "very little dissent" to implementing ProgPow;
  • Martin Holst Swende said that moving to ProgPow would "postpone the level of ASICs on our network for at least a year on our network, or perhaps more" and that he "would like to switch as soon as possible to give us time to move to proof-of-stake"

The developers said that they were considering moving to ProgPoW (which would be implemented as a hard fork) sometime before the launch of the Istanbul hard fork (which comes after the Constantinople hard fork).

At yesterday's core devs meeting, Jameson, started the discussion of ProgPow by saying:

"There is a group forming or multiple groups forming to perform a third-party audit on ProgPow with the intent to get an audit done before we stop accepting EIPs for Istanbul. The reason for that is to test the viability of the claims that were made about ProgPow such as that it is even across all types of cards like AMD and NVIDIA and ASICs and FPGAs, that it has the same hash rate and performance, and also that there is not going to be any problems once we launch it on mainnet." 

Unfortunately, there is no funding yet for such an audit. 

The problem with ProgPow is that although there is a general consensus amongst the core developers to eventually implement ProgPow, there has been some pushback by some members of the wider Ethereum community, who are concerned that it will reduce security (since eliminating the advantage currently enjoyed by ASIC miners might signficantly reduce the cost of an attack on the Ethereum network), that it is an anti free-market measure (since it hurts manufacturers such as Bitmain who have spent a lot of time and money creating ASIC miners for Ethereum), and that it could result in a chain split if some nodes decide to upgrade to ProgPow and the rest decide to stay with Ethash.

It was easy to see that some core developers feel that there is not enough information yet to make a decision on ProgPow, while some feel that too much time has been wasted already.

At one point, Swende asked: 

"We've been trying to come [up] with a decision for several months... So, I'm wondering how will this be resolved."

Greg Colvin (who some have nicknamed "Ethereum's Gandalf"), one of the core developers of the Ethereum Virtual Machine, answered:

"It's resolved by us making a fxxxing decision!"

Jameson then asked:

"Do we need more data to make a decision or can we just make it?"

Colvin replied:

"We can just make it! It's our job!"

Lane Retig, an eWASM core developer added:

"I am glad that some folks have strong opinions about it. I just feel that a number of core devs kind of have said the opposite, that they don't make qualified to make this decision." 

Jameson feels that an audit will help to answer a lot of questions about ProgPow:

"So, I think personally that having a third-party, as neutral, as it can be, ... assess some of the claims of ProgPow, if we can get to a point where we can say 'this will work and this is why it will work if we put it in,' that will help a lot."

After another developer, "Piper", said that this was a decision that he did not want to make, Jameson said:

"We still haven't explored all the possibilities about getting community feedback before we're forced to make a decision, including stuff like this audit which I consider a piece of community feedback."

Colvin replied:

"I am happy to get more information. I just want some decision that says this is the information we are going to get, and then we are going to decide, and I'm very opposed to the notion of we can't decide so we... will let the hashpower decide... I don't see risking a split in the network just because wen't make our mind up."


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Privacy Features Are Going To Change Ethereum For Good

Michael LaVere
  • Ethereum developers are working towards completely private transactions
  • Rise of Facebook coin and regulatory pressure makes privacy more necessary than ever

Privacy has become a buzzword in the industry of cryptocurrency and ethereum developers are beginning to recognize its importance.

Vitalik Buterin on Ethereum Privacy Features

Ethereum has been frequently headlines in 2019 over its slow transition to ETH 2.0. The Constantinople upgrade represents a first of its kind: a non-hard fork, massive overhaul that will shift ethereum’s algorithm from proof-of-work (PoW) to proof-of-stake (PoS).

Security features have likewise become a focal point in the transition.

In May, Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin published a piece on HackMD claiming the network was in need of a step towards “more privacy.” Buterin proposed a feature for allowing ether users to obscure their activity on the blockchain in one-off transactions, calling his design a “minimal mixer” that relied upon “anonymity sets.”

Buterin further explained his idea in an email with CoinDesk,

“Anonymity set is cryptography speak for ‘set of users that this thing could have come from.’ For example if I sent you 1 ETH and you can’t tell who exactly it was from but you can tell that it came from (myself, Alice, Bob or Charlie), then the anonymity set has size 4. The bigger the anonymity set the more privacy you have.”

Development Focus For Ethereum

Blockchains provide public ledgers that allow for transparency--a concept that has been antithetical to anonymous transactions in the past.

However, the evolution of mixers and zero-knowledge proofs has created the opportunity for privacy on a platform like ethereum, while still maintaining the integrity of the blockchain.

Itamar Lesuisse, CEO of Argent, gave his support for increased privacy on ethereum, even in the ‘simplest’ of use cases,

“If you just look at the most simplest use case, if I say, ‘Hey Christine, can you send me ten dollars [worth of ether]? Here’s my wallet address.’ Now, you know how much money I have.”

Lesuisse continued,

“It’s so transparent, which is a great picture of blockchain, but for some users, it might scare them away to use it at scale.”

The Argent CEO and other developers are working towards the creation of tools that allow for private transactions, which they believe will lead to increased adoption. The blockchain team at Big Four auditor EY has also been active. Last month, the group released code on GitHub under the name ‘Nightfall,’ which provides a solution for enabling anonymous ether transactions.

According to the GitHub post, Nightfall integrates a set of smart contracts, microservices  and zk-snarks to enable ERC-20 tokens to be transacted on ethereum’s blockchain in “complete privacy.” While the code is still an experimental solution, it could provide ether users with privacy transactions to rival top anonymity cryptos like monero and zcash.

Privacy Needed More Than Ever

Two recent developments will enhance the need for privacy features moving forward. Social media giant Facebook is wading into digital currencies with the launch of libra, despite having been proven inept at securing user data in the past. In addition, the intergovernmental Financial Action Task Force (FATF) passed a controversial mandate on Friday requiring crypto exchanges to share user data.

Both could have the effect of pushing users towards privacy coins, in an effort to escape the increased centralization and regulation imposed on cryptocurrency.