I was guided to this forum as potentially the best place to ask this question. This is not a troll post, it’s a genuine set of questions relating to ProgPoW specialty hardware.
Since the announcement that Ethereum is going to be switching to ProgPoW, I have been contacted by multiple groups who are working on ProgPoW hardware in some fashion or another. Some of the groups are FGPA developers, and some of them are ASIC developers. The question is basically the same from everyone though: what needs to be done in order to bring ProgPoW hardware peacefully to the Ethereum community? Nobody has interest in making enemies or being hardforked and invalidated, yet multiple groups have interest in making special purpose Ethereum mining hardware, which at this point means targeting ProgPoW.
And, I would also like to highlight some of the game theory in play: hardware developers have 3 options available to them:
- Develop hardware that will be released to the public.
- Develop hardware that will be kept secret and released to specialty groups only.
- Do not develop hardware at all.
If the ethereum community at large greatly opposes the development of specialty hardware, that only leaves options 2 and 3 for hardware manufacturers. And while some manufacturers may choose option 3, the amount of money at stake essentially guarantees that at least some hardware group is going to choose option 2.
The other thing that I would like to highlight is that as of writing, the ProgPoW creators generally have a very high confidence that the performance margin between specialty ASICs and GPUs is not going to be very large. If I recall correctly, they predict that an ASIC is likely to be 20% better at best than the best GPUs. This difference is substantially less than the difference between a home GPU miner and an economies of scale GPU mining farm, which would suggest that if they are right, the Ethereum community does not have to worry about greatly exacerbated effects from Ethereum ASICs.
On the other hand, ASIC designers feel that 2x should be easy, and more than 10x may be attainable. So the question comes back to the game theory: if a hardware developer manages to create a ProgPoW ASIC that outperforms GPUs by a surprising margin, let’s say 10x or even 100x, is it better for that manufacturer to keep their discovery secret and mine secretly, or is it better for that manufacturer to sell openly?
As of right now, I believe that the best thing for any ProgPoW hardware group to do is to keep their operations completely secret, as I believe they would risk a hardfork and losing all of their efforts if they brought forward a good piece of hardware to the public. I know that what many in Ethereum would prefer is that these hardware manufacturers focus on different cryptocurrencies or ASIC projects entirely, however the risk/reward equation is really attractive for ProgPoW hardware, and many of these manufacturing groups are not ideologically motivated int their interest in ProgPoW: it is a monetary motivation.
If the Ethereum community can come forward with some firm guidelines for publicly delivering ProgPoW hardware however, I believe that hardware manufacturers will not be required to operate in secret.