The last month saw 2 official blog posts from Zcash on the topic of ASICs. One was a company statement, the other was a discussion of the Zcash Foundation’s role in the ASICs debate. Both are worth reading in detail, but the upshot of the whole situation is as follows.
For those who don’t know, application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) are extra powerful chips designed for special applications. In terms of crypto mining, they provide a competitive advantage. ASICs have been introduced for use with other cryptocurrencies in the past, leading to shakeups in the mining industries of other coins. If ASICs are introduced for a particular hash algorithm, this typically means that the GPUs (graphical processing units) or CPUs (central processing units) lose their viability for miners.
This can have all sorts of ramifications, primary among them the fact that it tends to centralize mining power in the hands of a few big operations. Opponents also argue that ASICs are antithetical to the spirit of decentralized technology. In this sense, Zcash looks to be next on the chopping block, with Bitmain announcing the Antminer Z9 mini, an ASIC miner set to mine Equihash-based cryptocurrencies (like Zcash).
The official response from Zcash has been somewhat reassuring to those concerned, although how it plays out remains to be seen. There was an acknowledgment that leadership was hearing the distress of community members concerned by ASIC encroachment, and that steps were being taken to “protect those who’ve helped us build this ecosystem.”
The nonprofit Zcash Foundation is also said to be putting resources into investigating the power of ASICs on the network, is “committed” to funding an ASIC-resistance path forward, and has a rough goal of developing and submitting a mitigation plan through the “ZIP process.”
In the meantime, the debate continues.Technical Updates and New Investments
As the Zcash Foundation investigates the best solution to ASIC-related issues, the team itself is focused on 3 primary goals: a successful rollout of Overwinter (June), the transition to Sapling (September), and “equipping the ecosystem” – things like wallets and more exchange listings.
May saw the completion of Zcash 1.1.1, an Overwinter-compatible version of the Zcash node software, with initial support for Sapling consensus. By itself, Overwinter is not something that the end user will see as an awesome upgrade, but it lays down the code to make Sapling happen.
Along with this news, there was the announcement of a multi-party computation protocol MPC (for Sapling) which aims to make “parameters” more transparent and secure. This is an important piece of Sapling, the “network upgrade” that aims to streamline private transactions, Zcash’s main goal. Sapling will be a make or break moment for the project.
May also saw the announcements of 2 new Zcash investments, Agoric and StarkWare Industries. Starkware is a startup that is bringing “transparent privacy and scalability to a blockchain near you.” The company produces STARKs, which are a new cryptographic proof system said to be scalable, toxic-waste-free, and post-quantum secure.
Two final pieces of news:
Sonya Mann also joined the Zcash foundation as the full-time communications manager in May, a further positive indicator from a marketing and awareness perspective.
There was also a post about maintaining privacy in light of academic research on Zcash by University College London. The post concludes with the recognition that it is common to use transparent addresses (vulnerable to privacy breaches) for transactions, and there is a need for greater shielded address adoption:It is imperative that a shielded ecosystem be established to ensure the future of Internet Money.
This is also something the Sapling upgrade is said to be addressing.Final Thoughts
The latest roundup of news hasn’t given us any more certainty as to whether Zcash can win the privacy coin race. It does, however, indicate that they haven’t dropped the pace and are dealing with issues as they arise, and the recent price surge will probably help raise awareness (and appease some investors to boot).
Zcash is one of the most interesting privacy projects out there, the first of its kind to implement the zk-SNARKs protocol. The ZEC team seems to be brimming with confidence and acknowledge that ZEC is essentially an alpha product that needs to be improved upon. To see what’s in the cards for this project, one really needs to stay tuned until September at a minimum. Assuming the Sapling gets released on time, this will be the moment of truth.
In the interim, you can join the Zcash Reddit community, the Zcash Forum or follow the project’s charismatic leader Zooko on Twitter.
Related: Should You Invest in Zcash (Opinion)?