By Amy Castor for BTCManager (posted 9/21/16)
It’s been two months since Ethereum Classic (ETC) struck out on its own. But what started out as a protest on some Russian language forums against the Ethereum hard fork appears to be gaining traction. ETC now has a growing community of developers and followers who steadfastly believe in the immutability of blockchains.
The problem is ETC still has strong links back to Ethereum, and people tend to get confused over which one is the “real” Ethereum. So the next step is for ETC is to pull away from its roots and evolve into a separate blockchain of its own right. And for that, it needs a roadmap.
BTCManager spoke with Charles Hoskinson, CEO of blockchain research and service company IOHK to get a sense of what that roadmap might look like. Hoskinson was at one time the CEO of Ethereum but left due to philosophical differences. Now he is taking a strong stand behind ETC and helping the chain plot a course for future growth.
Perhaps the most pressing issue ETC has to deal with right now is what consensus algorithm to use. ETC and Ethereum are both on a proof-of-work (PoW) system that has a built in “difficulty bomb.” The bomb makes mining increasingly difficult as time goes on. Its purpose is to push the transition to a new configuration and ensure nobody gets too comfy with the status quo.
Ethereum plans to shift to a proof-of-stake (PoS) system of called Casper. But Hoskinson feels mining is a better, more secure option for smart contract validation, so he would like to see ETC stay on some type of PoW system. This would also help differentiate ETC from Ethereum.
Simply speaking, in a PoW system, how many blocks you mine depends on how much processing power and electricity you can afford out-of-pocket. You accrue tokens for your effort, which is how the system generates more digital currency. But in PoS, there is no mining, per se. Instead, a prover (also called a “validator”), has to show ownership of a certain amount of money. In other words, you have to have a stake in the system.
Hoskinson sees numerous advantages to staying on PoW. For example, ETC could attract all the miners who will be forced out when Ethereum moves to PoS. And he feels there’s lots of good innovation in PoW systems.
But ideally, he thinks ETC should aim for some type of hybrid algorithm that uses both PoW and PoS — or at least a modified version of PoW that eliminates mining pools and has built-in ASIC-resistant algorithms. (ASICs are specialized chips designed to outperform standard computers by magnitudes.)
There is a great paper from professor Hong-Sheng Zhou from Virginia Commonwealth University, which kind of starts the process of what something like this should look like. We’ve been talking to Hong-Sheng Zhou pretty closely and our goal is to leverage something like that, and basically implement a better version of proof of work, where we resolve a lot of the problems that proof of work has.”
Hoskinson and his team at IOHK are also exploring verified compilation for smart contracts. A verified compiler is a computer science guarantee that the code will run as written. Presumably, this would help avoid the type of coding errors that led to the DAO hack. “That is another differentiator we are planning on exploring. And to make sure developers don’t make mistakes when they compile those languages,” Hoskinson said.
Finally, IOHK is looking at issues of governance. Right now, a lot of actors want to donate money to ETC to get the ball rolling. But first ETC wants to find a governance structure that will avoid misuse of funds and conflicts of interest. An open funding pool runs the risk of getting tainted, if say, the DAO hacker decided to shift funds over into it. Right now IOHK is investigating Dash, which has a built-in funding system from which it pays its core developers and media people.
“If you have limited degree of proof of stake, you can actually permit voting and create a decentralized ballot system where nobody controls the treasury. Instead, it is kind of like a democracy,” Hoskinson said.
Some of these mistakes can be hidden and very subtle. So even if you are an experienced programmer, as your application complexity increases, the higher the probability that you are going to make a really nasty bug.”
ETC is a decentralized system. So an important point to note is that while Hoskinson and IOHK will propose one roadmap, others will propose their own roadmaps. Eventually developers will aggregate around whatever roadmap is chosen by consensus.
If ETC continues keeps up its momentum and receives an increasing level of backing and support, it has every opportunity to evolve into a distinct blockchain. And if a name change is forthcoming, one day we may even forget ETC was ever connected to Ethereum at all.