Ethereum Meeting Leaves Open Questions Ahead of October Upgrade

A meeting that brought together a broad representation of ethereum stakeholders to discuss code changes on which decisions need to be made ahead of a software upgrade scheduled for October, failed to produce immediate results Friday.

The bi-weekly developers call, which this week included a majority of the network’s miners and some prominent investors, had the goal of forging consensus on changes to ethereum’s underlying economics, the speed of its upgrades and the mining methods it supports, as well as establishing an order in which concerns might be addressed through future upgrades.

However, despite nearly two hours of dialogue, the meeting ended with the resolution that the discussion continue, with a follow-on meeting scheduled for August 31.

Adding necessity to the talks is that the so-called “difficulty bomb,” a piece of code that, in seeking to encourage quicker updates to the protocol, must be delayed or removed.

The presence of the deadline, set for early 2019, has complicated the question of whether to implement a proof-of-work change to remove specialized mining hardware, or ASICs, from the platform, whether its rewards are being distributed fairly, and whether such changes should be made together.

But, since miners, developers and investors are all impacted – some could gain or lose money, depending on the decision – the conversation might be best seen as a difficult first step in making such choices.

Chairman of the decision Hudson Jameson said:

“I honestly don’t know how to make a decision. I don’t know how we’ll go from here.”

Issuance debated

A lack of firm decision-making aside, significant time was spent discussing how much ether is created and distributed with every transaction block that is mined.

Two participants in the call – Brian Venturo, CTO of mining facility operator Atlantic Crypto, and software developer Matthew White – called not only for an issuance reduction, but went as far as asking developers to commit to limiting the total amount of ether that can ever be created.

That move would deviate from previous roadmaps, in which a cap wouldn’t be added until an anticipated change to a proof-of-stake consensus method that would remove the need for mining hardware entirely.

Others sought to frame the question as one that is in the interests of all parties who use ether – even developers who may not necessarily earn rewards.

“Getting the issuance under control will have good effects for price which is important for developer salaries and projects and funding new projects,” White said.

Speaking at the meeting, Xin Xu, the CEO of an ethereum mining pool named Sparkpool that supports over 20 percent of the ethereum hashrate, warned about the consequences of lowering the issuance rate or block reward too substantially.

“There is a tipping point and when we get there everything will break down and we cannot get back. In my opinion the change of issuance will be a big impact to the security.” Xin said.

ASIC resistance

And even though ethereum’s proof-of-work mining is expected to be replaced later in the roadmap, stakeholders faced another contentious topic: whether to block the use of specialized chips that could crowd out many of today’s GPU-dependent miners.

At issue is the recent release of specialized ASICs designed to maximize miner profits and push out those who have less-competitive miners – or are unable to buy the latest hardware.

Given that the issuance reduction would effectively amount to a cut in pay for miners, ethereum developer Danny Ryan suggested that blocking ASICs from the network might constitute a “reasonable compromise” for GPU-dependent miners.

Jameson said that such a code change could be implemented in a subsequent hard fork, eight months after Constantinople has activated — however, the testing required might be too substantial for it to be included in October’s planned hard fork.

And while there was broad consensus from the miners present to keep ASICs off the platform, several developers pushed back against the code change proposal, stating that they were “skeptical” that it could accomplish its aims.

Others warned that a change that is too substantial could actually be damaging to GPU miners, who have optimized their equipment for ethereum’s code.

In the end, Jameson urged participants to continue the discussion on social media, remarking:

“Between now and next Friday there will be more community comment about the EIPs and the different perspectives here.”

Pocket watches image via Shutterstock

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Colman Ma
Colman is a technology writer covering gadgets and general tech trends. Colman is a geek at heart and loves anything that has a chip in it.

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