An open letter to the Bitcoin community to change the proof-of-work algorithm
One of the reasons many of you got into Bitcoin was the fact that it was decentralized. But did you know that this is slowly changing? More and more of the network hashrate is starting to become concentrated into the hands of one man and his company. The security of our network essentially depends on them acting honourably, and us being prepared to respond to it. They get more powerful each day.
Based on conservative estimates of gross margin of 75 percent and operating margin of 65 percent, Bernstein analysts calculate that Beijing-based Bitmain made $3 billion to $4 billion in operating profits in 2017
As long as they control the majority of the hash rate, the only way to keep the network secure is the threat of a hard fork to a new PoW, but this will only work for as long the community is reasonably small and still overwhelmingly shares the same morals for a decentralized Bitcoin.
In a decentralized system, we shouldn’t be put into a position where we rely on a centralized point of failure to behave themselves. People talk about “new entrants” to the mining scene, but it’s almost impossible for anyone to catch up to the total domination of the mining space by BITMAIN. They are light years ahead. That $4 billion dollars of profit will be used to build even better hardware, allowing them to further dominate mining for the foreseeable future and likely buy stakes in their competitors.
The hashrate has already been abused to give political support to reckless and dangerous hard fork attempts. They have questionable allegiance to Bitcoin at best, seeming more interested in supporting Bitcoin Cash, undermining the very network that employs them. Even more dangerously, they are based in China, a country with a long track of human rights abuses, censorship, and generally evil behaviour. The miners are in a position where the Chinese government can take over their equipment at any time; something they will no doubt do if Bitcoin grows enough to allow them to use their control of the hashrate to push a Chinese geopolitical agenda.
The more Bitcoin grows, the harder it becomes to hard fork. If it’s this bad right now, it could be even worse in a few years time, but by then it will be too late. We don’t want our transactions being decided by the Chinese government. The solution is to adopt a new hybrid PoW system, possibly with a PoS combination, and choosing algorithms that are very easy and simple to build ASICs for. The playing field needs to be even again, and structured in a way where it’s harder for one entity to dominate it.
The truth is that PoW provides very little security if it isn’t distributed effectively among multiple independent participants. This is historically why mining pools were very careful to avoid accumulating too much hashrate. But now we have a situation where one man controls the majority of the hashrate, and we are OK with that so long as he behaves himself. Imagine if someone followed you around with a gun pressed against your head, and you were OK with this because “he is incentivized to not shoot me because of the threat of jail”, people would call you stupid and crazy, and yet when it comes to Bitcoin, we’re totally fine with thinking along those lines.
Economic incentives only work when broadly applied to many participants. If mining was distributed among 100 independent miners, each with 1% hashrate, spread all over the world, you can trust the economic incentives to work as expected. It’s much less likely for something to happen that would take control of 51 of those miners. However, if you have like 3 miners who matter, with 2/3 of them in one country, these incentives break down. Maybe their government takes their equipment, or they’re insane, or they are just evil.
This mining problem is the root cause of all of Bitcoin’s problems. It’s the miners that have supported every hostile attempt to take over the network. It’s the miners who block new features for their strange political agenda. It’s the miners who lend support to altcoins that undermine Bitcoin. We need to get rid of them while we still can, they’re no longer a useful part of our community. Hard forks are scary, but let’s not be afraid to at least try to build consensus when we can all see the problem right in front of us.