Peter Todd, backed by Matt Corallo, has proposed hard-fork changes to the bitcoin network to make “useless” patent pending algorithmic improvements which give mining an Asicboost of 20%, leading to increased profits of some $30 million if used by one of the biggest mining pools.
In a striking post to the bitcoin mailing list, Todd states:
“As part of the hard-fork proposed in the HK agreement we’d like to make the patented AsicBoost optimisation useless, and hopefully make further similar optimizations useless as well.”
Arguing that the patent pending optimization may lead to mining centralization as the license could be limited to only one manufacturer or lead Chinese manufacturers to ignore the patent, but restrict export of the optimized ASICs to USA, Todd stated that if any other patented mining optimizations are found “we’d definitely consider fighting them as well.”
Corallo, after making a suggestion on how Asicboost’s optimizations could be made irrelevant, states:
“While this is somewhat nasty, the risks of AsicBoost and the precedent that should be set necessitates a response, and it should be included in any hardfork.”
Gregory Maxwell, stating that he was not sure whether forking the optimization is the best move at this point, but was happy some were carefully thinking doing just that, argued:
“A 20% inherent advantage, in perfect competition, is likely to lead to an eventual monopoly of mining if monopoly patent right prohibit competitions– if mining profits go are under the level of that enhancement everyone without it would be operating at a loss.”
Sergio Demian Lerner, a renown bitcoin security expert who collaborated with Timo Hanke in creating Asicboost, argued that changing the protocol would send a strong message to the ecosystem that any ASIC optimization should be kept secret and further stated that if the patent license is non-exclusive then all can use the optimization.
Timo Hanke stated that there was no way to know who was currently using the optimization as manufacturers do not reveal such information. Therefore, the proposed hardfork guarantees “two co-existing bitcoin blockchains” as current asicboost hardware would have no choice, but to continue mining on the current chain as they cannot switch over to the majority chain.
The above proposal has caused some controversy for indicating a central planner mind-set as well as a seemingly openness to hardforking after a year of vigorously arguing against it, with Oliver Janssens, an early bitcoin adopter, tweeting:
Note to miners: We, the core devs, discovered a patented optimization in your ASIC. We will make it obsolete in the next update. Thank you.
— Olivier Janssens (@olivierjanss) May 13, 2016
The proposal is made in the context of a hard fork promised by many bitcoin developers in the Hong Kong Agreement. According to that “consensus” agreement, segwit was to be released last month, but even now in mid-May it still has not been merged. A hardfork proposal was to be made three months after, that is by July.
Some suggest that the Asicboost proposal is an attempt to make the hardfork as controversial as possible or boggle it down into numerous other changes to the protocol, including changes contained in the hardfork wishlist, which will necessarily take much time and effort, thus most probably have it delayed or shelved. Rather than focus on only a maxblocksize increase as Gavin Andresen suggested in summer 2015 to avoid a never ending debate on what should or should not be included in the hardfork.
Featured image from Shutterstock.