On March 30, Ethereum Foundation developer Piper Merriam opened Ethereum Improvement Proposal (EIP) #958 on Github. In doing so, Merriam put forth the possibility of a hard fork in the Ethereum (ETH) protocol to negate ETH ASICs. Just two days prior, Ethereum developer Vlad Zamfir presented the same question on Twitter. Over half of the respondents answered positively.
Both polls come into play amidst hearsay that the Chinese ASIC producer Bitmain is on the verge of shipping its first batch of Ethash-compatible ASIC miners. Ethash is the Proof-of-Work (PoW) hashing algorithm that Ethereum and several other altcoin companies utilize.
In its Ethereum White Paper, Buterin asserts that the protocol already has a double barrier to mining centralization in place. Firstly, Ethash forces miners to return the hash for data that was randomly chosen from transactions in previous blocks. Ethereum contracts cover all kinds of computations, so an Ethereum ASIC would work for general computations – essentially an improved CPU. The second impediment to centralization is to “poison the well”. Vitalik describes this as more of a human than a technical solution. If a type of computation is used too frequently, conventional miners could submit a massive number of contracts into the Blockchain that will obstruct it.
In February, Cointelegraph published that Bitmain’s profits exceeded American GPU leader Nvidia in 2017. Bernstein analysts found that Bitmain’s profits for 2017 were between $3-4 billion. Bitmain holds 70-80 percent of the BTC miners and ASICs market.
The Ethereum Foundation’s informal proposal concerning a possible hard fork rises after Monero’s renunciation of the centralization of hashpower last month. Monero lead programmer Riccardo Spagni worries that the coin’s protocol would be altered every few months to block ASIC monopolies. Some commentators suggest that rumors regarding distribution of Ethash-compatible ASIC miners has affected Ethereum markets.