Part of the gradual upgrade of Ethereum that is being discussed is the introduction of ProgPow.
ProgPoW stands for ‘Programmatic Proof Of Work.’ It’s an extension of the current Ethereum algorithm Ethash and is designed to make graphics cards more competitive and minimise centralisation.
For those who were hiding under a rock through the 2018 bear market, there are some significant changes in the rarified cryptocurrency air. The markets are bouncing back; institutions, banks, and even governments are warming to cryptocurrency and blockchain, and Ethereum is about to change its entire algorithm.
Ethereum, the grandfather of the smart contract blockchain, is in the grips of a major overhaul as it prepares to become a proof of stake blockchain through the Casper release. Having gained fame and notoriety as a proof of work chain, Ethereum is now honing in on better performance.
ProgPow is in an interesting space as it mostly has the blessing of the network, but also a lot of skepticism and controversy around its implementation. Even more compelling is the fact that it calls into the question the duality of Ethereum 1.0 and Ethereum 2.0.
Still, the critical point about this ProgPow update is that it empowers GPU miners and detracts from the ASIC monopoly.
Kristy-Leigh Minehan, one of the creators of ProgPow, explains why this is important for a chain like Ethereum, and not as vital for something like Bitcoin.
ProgPow: calling the curious and the keen
“Mining is a gateway drug to using cryptocurrency applications,” explained Minehan. “You can’t get around it.”
If one stretches their mind back to the days when Bitcoin and Ethereum were almost exclusively mined on GPUs you can see why her statement rings true. Interest in cryptocurrency a few years back often preceded getting into mining, which helped one get a true understanding of the technology.
“People have a mining GPU, and they get curious, so they get involved and start exploring and seeing what they do with this, and then it goes down the rabbit hole. When you take away mining, you take away any incentive to participate in the network,” added Minehan.
“When you isolate mining to an ASIC, you are isolating your user base. You are saying that unless you are an enterprise user, or unless you can shell out $5,000 for the equipment, you cannot participate in this network.”
“Contrast this with a CPU or GPU, which everyone has in their laptop at home or desktop, and someone can download an application and jump in. What happens is because you are tuned to GPUs, you are now attracting developers.”
Therein lies the key of Minehan’s ProgPow algorithm and why it is so vital to Ethereum. By making mining exclusive to those who can afford ASIC equipment, you are cutting out a large portion of the potential network participants.
Ethereum is a world computer and an open source network that needs to be astonishingly decentralised and incredibly dynamic. It is the kind of blockchain that needs network participants tinkering and toying all the time to push its potential.
By isolating mining to the rich, rather than the curious, the growth of the Ethereum network will stagnant and become driven by greed.
Nothing wrong with ASIC
As much as ProgPow has had its detractors and controversies, ASIC mining has also been dragged across the coals. However, it does have its place in the cryptocurrency world, but probably not with Ethereum.
Minehan goes on the explain how ASIC is excellent for Bitcoin:
“I was on a panel with a few companies that were very pro-ASIC, but they missed the point,” she went on. “You don’t want to incentive the Bitcoin network to have curious minds, what you want there is a ton of enterprises that are contributing their cash to stay locked to the Bitcoin network and to support it.”
“That is the user base you want to target on Bitcoin – Banks, medium to large businesses, and investors and institutions. Therefore you need to ensure the algorithm and hardware are perfect marriage – ASICs are that marriage there.”
“Think about Ethereum; it is a culture of developers; it is a world computer, so you need to attract the right kind of users – this means GPUs are the perfect hook.”
A nascent space
By merely looking down the job boards under blockchain and cryptocurrency, you can see the hunger for developers in this space. For Minehan and her ProgPow mining hash, she is hoping to plant some curious seeds at the grassroots level.
To mine, one has to have a deep understanding of how the algorithm works and how to get the best results. It requires arduous tinkering to reach actual efficiencies, which leads to necessary base experience in blockchain.
If someone is allowed into a mining community as large as Ethereum with no barriers to entry, one can safely assume that their skills, curiosities, and abilities will grow, and that can only benefit the overall blockchain network.