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Considering that mining progressed from CPU, to GPU, to FPGA, and now ASIC mining... have we finally hit the end of the road for technological advancement?

What future optimizations can occur after ASICs are widespread?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Well, the ASICs machines would probably be more and more refined over the years (like processors), they can get bigger and so forth. So that will probably be the progress for a long while.

Asides that, we have the quantum computers that might be the next big leap forward for all fields of computer science, but for now they can only do really small calculations (3x5=15... on 5 atoms, or something like that). However, there is no telling if and when quantum computers might become viable enough to do anything Bitcoin-related with them, or even whether they might be used to destroy Bitcoin's algorithms altogether.

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Quantum computers don't just do 3x5=15, they do the much harder 15=3x5 (that is, start with 15 and use Shor's algorithm to factor it). And according to Wikipedia, earlier this year a quantum computer managed to factor 21. –  Meni Rosenfeld Nov 15 '12 at 19:22
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Massively parallel ASIC arrays with efficient job allocation are probably the next step. –  Gary Rowe Nov 16 '12 at 9:29
    
Using quantum computers or "qubits" for Bitcoin mining is addressed here: bitcoin.stackexchange.com/questions/13304/… –  Scott Oct 29 at 13:32

Regarding quantum computers:

If a scalable quantum computer were built, the Bitcoin protocol would become insecure. Bitcoin addresses are derived from the public key in an elliptic curve cryptography system. The whole system depends on the owner keeping his/her secret key indeed secret. Quantum computers could solve efficiently not only the factoring problem but also the discrete logarithm problem:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discrete_logarithm

The security Bitcoin derives from elliptic curve cryptography rests on the assumption that discrete logarithm is hard.

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It's a good answer, but I think it's more of a follow-up comment to an answer, rather than an answer to the question. –  ThePiachu Nov 16 '12 at 6:39
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I'm new to stackexchange and I still have problems to comment answers that are not mine (there doesn't seem to be an option). –  halftimepad Nov 23 '12 at 10:49
    
No they wouldn't. If a quantum computer would be built that could actually perform the reverse discrete logarithm (which still very far off) it would still take incredibly long to actually do it in practice. Over the years it would be improved, but that is way more than enough time to update Bitcoin with a quantum-proof signature algorithm. –  Madzi Konjo Oct 29 at 6:24
    
Oh and besides, in most cases, the public key is only published when its coins are spent. Typically you only have the address which is the RIPEMD160 hash of the Sha256 hash of the public key. Good luck inverting that to the private key with any quantum algorithm :) –  Madzi Konjo Oct 29 at 6:24
    
Related: bitcoin.stackexchange.com/questions/13304/… –  Scott Oct 29 at 13:32

The first batch of ASICs will probably be based on "structured ASIC" technology, which is where wiring is laid on top of a pre-defined matrix of transistors. Because the wiring layers are the only layers that need to be defined, structured ASICs are much easier to design than the next most complex form of ASICs, in which the placement of transistors is also customized.

Structured ASICs are very efficient compared with FPGAs; however, if the layout and selection of the transistors is also fully customized, you can get another order of magnitude improvement. My guess is that if Bitcoin continues to succeed for another year, one of the existing ASIC vendors will raise money ($5-10M) to design a standard cell ASIC.

If you think about what your iPhone's graphics processor can do for hour after hour -- all powered by a small battery -- you can get a sense of what a full custom ASIC is capable of in terms of power efficiency.

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Probably a step before quantum computers could be ASICs designed using either balanced ternary or imaginary quaternary as their computing bases. Both these bases have slight advantages over binary, as was exposed by Knuth. The Soviets even created a ternary computer, too bad their effort wasn't followed up...

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