A mining efficiency improvement that was once blamed for all sorts of things by some Bitcoin Core supporters and developers now finds their endorsement in an interesting twist.
Slush Pool announced they have produced the “first-ever block mined using the active version-rolling aka overt AsicBoost. According to the available evidence, it was mined by HalongMining hardware.”
AsicBoost was accused of somehow blocking segwit, then it was blamed for being patented, but what we’re seemingly finding out today is that the only problem with AsicBoost might have been the fact it was implemented by Bitmain.
“Concept ACK, assuming community support. It seems like having the 16 bits removed be on byte boundaries would be useful (but this may be more complicated),” Luke-Jr, Blockstream employee, says in approval of a proposal to make protocol changes to accommodate HalongMining’s AsicBoost.
This complete reversal towards something they advocated against for months might show a new highly self interested development in bitcoin’s protocol coding.
As such, in light of recent events, let’s track back the fall and rise of Asicboost, starting with a statement by Gregory Maxwell, former Blockstream CTO, which kicked off the entire controversy:
“Due to a design oversight the Bitcoin proof of work function has a potential attack which can allow an attacking miner to save up-to 30% of their energy costs (though closer to 20% is more likely due to implementation overheads),” he said a year ago after adding:
“Reverse engineering of a particular mining chip has demonstrated conclusively that ASICBOOST has been implemented in hardware.”
That reverse engineering might have led to a slightly different design of Asicboost, which allowed a newly formed mining company by a pseudonymous individual to patent Asicboost. He says:
“This BIP has the added advantage that when a new use for bits is found, mining manufacturers can play in the designated area without causing disruption or inconvenience (as unfortuntely, the use of version-rolling will cause until BIP8/9 warning systems are adapted).
I appologise for the inconvenience in advance, but this is the unfortunate result of restraints while negotiating to get the patent opened and licensed defensively in the first place.”
Halong Mining announced itself in November after $30 million in research and development had been invested in a new chip design which basically reconfigures Asicboost in a newly patented way.
When that announcement was made there was significant suspicion due to many mining scams. As such, Adam Back, Blockstream’s CEO, took the step of publicly endorsing Halong Mining and in effect vouched for their legitimacy.
Where that $30 million came from is unclear, but Back has previously stated that Blockstream does some mining on the side or might get involved in mining when he was asked how Blockstream intends to make a profit.
As many commented at the time, reverse engineering a chip requires huge resources. As such, one can see little reason why a Blockstream CTO would spend the significant amount of time and money, as well as be given the green-light by the board, if there was no profit motive.
Looking at the whole picture therefore, an admission of reverse engineering, followed by the announcement of a “new” patentable chip design that looks quite similar to the one reverse engineered, followed by the CEO’s endorsement of that chip design, leads to little reasonable conclusion.
It would also explain perhaps why Luke-jr is quick to approve the proposed new bitcoin protocol design. Which means that if our conclusion is indeed correct, individual coder’s business interests might now have a lot more to do with certain protocol decisions than the interests of bitcoin’s ecosystem more widely.