Slush Pool, Bitcoin’s first and oldest mining pool, announced support for AsicBoost today, March 6, 2018. Slush Pool users that have the technology embedded in the application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) chips in their mining hardware can connect to the pool to mine more efficiently and, thus, more profitably.
“The protocol extension we propose and already implemented allows [miners] to use overt AsicBoost over stratum protocol, which was not yet possible,” Slush Pool CTO Pavel Moravec told Bitcoin Magazine. “Mining can now get even closer to the theoretical lower limit on power consumption so that there is less space for finding optimization.”
AsicBoost was invented by former CoinTerra CTO Timo Hanke in 2016. The technology takes an advantage of a quirk in Bitcoin’s proof-of-work algorithm, which lets miners take a sort of “shortcut” to find a new block. This can be done both overtly as well as covertly — though the latter variant is currently not as effective on Bitcoin.
The update to the Slush Pool software is technically modest. It essentially allows Slush Pool miners (or “hashers”) to slightly change what a Bitcoin “block header” looks like: the part of the block that includes data about the block itself. Similar data has been used to signal readiness for soft fork upgrades, but it can be also used for AsicBoost and potentially for less obvious things (like internal accounting).
Although Slush Pool, which currently claims about 11 percent of total hash power on the network, is compatible with AsicBoost starting immediately, there is currently no known mining hardware that takes advantage of the technology — yet.
Earlier this week, Little Dragon Technology LLC, the current holder of the patented AsicBoost technology, publicly announced that it would be the first company to join the Blockchain Defensive Patent Licence (BDPL) initiative. This commitment makes the AsicBoost patent available to any company that also joins the BDPL — on condition that these companies share their own patents under the same license.
“We knew that the AsicBoost licence would be available within a defensive patent pool, so we started to prepare the extension some time ago,” said Moravec on the timing of the Slush Pool announcement. “We didn’t want to publish anything before the AsicBoost patent is really out and available.”
While AsicBoost has been subject to much controversy in the past, most of that controversy surrounded the patent on the technology — which could skew competition — and the alleged covert use of it. By making the technology equally available to any company that joins the BDPL, Little Dragon Technology hopes this controversy will come to an end.
Slush Pool, too, believes the BDPL could play a key role here.
“Patents are a problem if they’re not available to all equally,” Moravec said. “Mining is about having an edge. A participant with significant advantage leads to single dominant miner. So it’s actually better if everyone uses AsicBoost. If the patent exists and is made available, then it is fine. It equals the playing field.”
Furthermore, Little Dragon Technology believes that the AsicBoost patent is so powerful that all mining hardware producers must join the BDPL if they wish to remain competitive. Since these hardware producers must then also share their own patents with other licensees, it might effectively render mining hardware patents altogether obsolete.
“We definitely expect that all manufacturers will use AsicBoost in future. It’s just more efficient and if it is available, then it would be bad for them to not use it,” Moravec said. “The only reason not to use it would be a desire to engage in patent wars.”
For more background and information on the Blockchain Defensive Patent License and Little Dragon Technology’s decision to join the initiative, read Bitcoin Magazine’s cover story for this month: There Is a Bitcoin Patent War Going On, but This Initiative Could End It.
Aaron van Wirdum is interested in technology and how it affects social and political structures. He has been covering Bitcoin since 2013, focusing on privacy, scalability and more. Hodls BTC.