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Ethereum Mulls Hard Fork to Maintain ASIC Resistance

A proposal to adopt a hard fork to maintain ASIC resistance is quickly building support among Ethereum users in response to reports that the first Ethash ASIC miners are already in production.

Ethereum Improvement Proposal (EIP) 958, submitted by Ethereum developer Piper Merriam on Thursday, proposes that Ethereum take measures to maintain ASIC resistance and ensure that the network’s hashrate remains decentralized.

“I believe it is the accepted wisdom that ASIC based mining leads to increases [in] centralization when compared to GPU mining,” Merriam wrote.

The proposal was sparked by recent reports that Chinese mining hardware manufacturer Bitmain has developed and is currently producing an Ethash miner that uses Application Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC) chips.

ASIC miners are vastly more efficient than GPU miners, but — as Merriam noted — their development tends to centralize mining hashpower into the hands of a small group of miners and mining pools, particularly since Bitmain is by far the dominant ASIC manufacturer.

Since Ethereum is one of several cryptocurrencies that use the Ethash Proof-of-Work (PoW) consensus algorithm, the release of an Ethash ASIC miner promises to fundamentally alter the nature of Ethereum mining.

However, since ASICs are only useful for a single purpose, they can be rendered obsolete (or “bricked”) by adopting a hard fork to modify the mining algorithm.

Monero, for instance, recently modified its instance of the Cryptonight PoW algorithm after Bitmain released the first Cryptonight ASIC, and its developers have said that they will preemptively alter the consensus algorithm every six months to discourage manufacturers from attempting to develop Monero-compatible ASICs in the future.

There are varying opinions about whether ASICs are helpful or harmful — Bitcoin mining has been dominated by ASICs for years — but forking to maintain ASIC resistance appears to have support in the Ethereum community.

At the conclusion of the EIP, Merriam asked users to up- or downvote the EIP to indicate whether they support adopting a fork to improve the network’s ASIC resistance. At the time of writing, the hypothetical fork had overwhelming support, with 550 votes in favor and just 26 against.

That’s a small sample size, but it’s not the first informal survey to find broad support for preserving ASIC resistance. A day prior, Ethereum developer Vlad Zamfir asked a similar question on Twitter, and his poll found that 57 percent of the 6,903 respondents favored a hard fork while just 13 percent opposed it.

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