Sia Bricks Bitmain, InnoSilicon ASICs in Favor of Own ASIC Miner
October 2, 2018 by Robert DeVoe
The Sia team has just announced that they will be going forward with a fork that will “reset the Sia Proof-of-Work function to brick the Bitmain and Innosilicon [ASIC mining] hardware”. In other words, the fork will make all competing ASIC hardware obsolete and incompatible with the Sia chain. That will leave only Sia’s own Obelisk mining hardware useful for mining Sia. This has raised questions on whether or not this represents a conflict of interest. It could also increase the risk of attack on the network due to the suddenly lowered hash rate. It could even cause the community to split in two.
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Sia’s ASIC “Civil War”
According to Sia lead developer David Vorick, the appearance of competing ASIC hardware from both Bitmain and Innosilicon nearly caused a civil war within the community. This, according to Vorick, is because Sia and its supporters had already sunk millions of dollars into developing the Obelisk ASIC miner. The presence of competing mining hardware meant that Obelisk would need to stand on its own two feet and not simply survive due to not having any competition.
It was at this point that the first proposal for changing the proof-of-work algorithm within Sia was put forward. The proposal intended to change the Sia algorithm so that competing hardware would no longer be compatible (and would thus become totally useless). Vertcoin, among others, has also previously voiced strong anti-Bitmain sentiment.
This caused the community to split into two main camps. On one side, some felt that Bitmain “had done a substantial amount of damage”, and that “true decentralization required allowing freedom for ASIC manufacturers”. On the other side of the argument, some did not want Obelisk to have a monopoly on Sia ASIC hardware.
In the end, the proposal did not pass and a hard fork was averted. However, in a strongly worded blog post, Zach Herbert, VP of Obelisk operations, gave Bitmain a stern warning. Back in January, he said:
“The community can still decide to invalidate all Bitmain hardware if we are attacked. If Bitmain takes any action to harm the Sia project, we will soft-fork to invalidate their hardware.”
Sia: Brick ’em All!
On October 1st, David Vorick announced that a second proposal within the community to fork and invalidate all competing hardware had passed. Vorick described the competing ASIC manufacturers as being against the interests of the community–specifically because both Bitmain and Innosilicon are using their hardware to mine for their own profit, which Vorick claims causes an imbalance and a misalignment of goals.
“For the Sia network, an important line was crossed when secret ASIC projects superseded a public project that had substantial community investment. Though the Obelisk project got a few things wrong, largely Obelisk went about ASIC development and manufacturing in the right way. Obelisk was focused on adding value to Sia, to the Sia community, and to the cryptocurrency community as a whole, which is what we expect from a service provider.”
But this action begs a number of very important questions about the motives of the Sia team and the Obelisk project. On the surface, it looks like simple protectionism. The Obelisk hardware currently isn’t competing effectively against their competitors. Instead of making better hardware or offering other incentives, the Sia and Obelisk teams are deciding to simply seal their competition out of the game.
Vorick does concede that this action will have consequences. Specifically, he notes that it will be “a step backwards for Sia’s security” due to the lower hash rate.
“We Don’t View Blockchains as a Democracy…”
With the impending destruction of all competing ASIC hardware ability to mine, you may be wondering who stands to benefit the most from this.
According to Vorick, Sia and Obelisk both have a number of tricks up their sleeves to ensure that they can continue to maintain absolute control over the future of the network. Specifically, he made mention of “secret extra circuits” that are included in Obelisk that will allow it to continuously survive these types of forks.
“In the case of Sia, Obelisk built a tiny, secret extra circuit into the mining chip that would allow the Sia developers to perform a hard fork that breaks manufacturers without that extra circuit, but does not break the Obelisk machines. There is a nearly infinite number of ways to add such a circuit to a chip, and a flexible ASIC would not be able to cover all of those opportunities without paying a substantial performance and efficiency penalty.”
Not only that, but he warned such forks could happen again if they feel the need to “break a parasitic or abusive ASIC monopoly”.
In regards to eschewing ASICs altogether, Vorick stated that his team believes that “an ASIC manufacturer monopoly is strongly preferable to being a GPU mined coin”. That’s because according to Vorick, GPU-mined cryptocurrencies are more prone to 51 percent attacks.
Vorick: Don’t Like It? Fork Off, Buddy
Vorick closed his blog post by stating that the fork will be designed so that dissenters can leave, making their own Bitmain and Innosilicon compatible chain.
“Overall, we are sad that things have come to the point where we need to take action to reject an existing ASIC monopoly. We hope that in the future, the mining ecosystem is more self regulating and that this is the only mining hardfork required for Sia. However, we believe that we have set this hardfork up to be as decentralized as possible, and we believe that any substantial dissent from the users can be accommodated fully and gracefully through a Nebulous supported network split.”
But will an attitude of our way or the highway be enough to allay the concerns that this announcement will inevitably create? All that’s left now is to see how the community reacts, and whether or not dissenters will take up Vorick’s offer and leave.
Have your say. Is Vorick’s decision a wise one or does it merely reflect self-interest?
Images via Pixabay