The newest trend in computing hardware design may save Bitcoin’s bacon, one group of developers claim.

A Bitcoin Improvement Proposal (BIP) calling for the implementation of Optical Proof-of-Work (oPoW) was sent on the Bitcoin developer mailing list Thursday specifying the use of silicon photonic chips over application specific integrated circuit (ASICs) for Bitcoin mining.

The proposal outlines how recent advances in the use of lightwaves in purpose built chips typically used for artificial intelligence (AI) or speech processing could not only make Bitcoin mining less energy intensive, but a more decentralized network.

  • Photonic-based computations use laser light over defined pathways. It uses less energy than electronic circuitry (CPU, GPU, ASIC, etc) plus has no heat waste.
  • Cheap computation would make operational expenditures (opex) low, but capital expenditures (capex) high – flipping the current market on its head.
  • The proposal would require, at the very least, a soft fork of the Bitcoin network to incentivize miner migration to phonotonic chips.

oPoW would maintain the same nominal cost associated with mining a bitcoin block. The associated cost would merely transfer into the initial capital needed to secure the photonic chip.

“A single laser input is split evenly into multiple waveguides, each waveguide feeds into a modulator that can decrease the intensity of the light,” the paper states.

Moving costs associated with mining from opex to capex would seemingly increase the security of the network, the authors argue, as any future attack against the network would threaten the value of the procured capital.

Home mining would be a bad joke no longer either by removing energy costs, heat dissipation and noise from the equation.

Some concerns remain, however.

  • Shifting mining costs from opex to capex bears similarities to the unfavored Proof-of-Stake (PoS) by relying on large sums of spent capital on participating in block creation.
  • Current Bitcoin mining supply chains are well established. Any protocol change would necessarily disrupt this chain and could lead to stronger economies of scale.

It’s also worth noting that energy usage is, in the eyes of many, a fair tradeoff for creating Bitcoin. Not only does the market price suggest this conclusion, but some regard coin issuance via energy intensive mining as one of Satoshi’s foundational designs.