Silicon photonic blockchain to reduce the energy of crypto mining

Silicon photonic blockchain to reduce the energy of crypto mining

Technology News |
By Nick Flaherty

Researchers in the US have developed a photonic chip to reduce the energy necessary for cryptocurrency and blockchain applications.

Mining cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin using blockchain can be energy intensive, and the energy expenditure is expected to grow as cryptocurrency and blockchain applications become increasingly mainstream.

The team at Stanford University developed the scheme, called LightHash, using a photonic integrated circuit to create a photonic blockchain. This could produce a roughly ten-fold improvement in energy use compared to the best digital ASICs they say.

Securely creating Bitcoin or operating its computing network requires computing a hash function such as SHA256 to transform input data into a single output number in a way that is too complex to be undone, which accounts for the bulk of Bitcoin’s energy use.

The team designed a silicon photonic chip carrying a 6×6 network of programmable interferometers for low-energy optical processing of matrix multiplications, which forms the bulk of the computation in Lighthash.

To evaluate the feasibility of using LightHash for matrix multiplication, the researchers built an optical rig to control and track the propagation of light by tuning heating elements and imaging grating spots onto an infrared camera. They also implemented an error mitigation algorithm and established feasibility criteria for scaling the technology.

“Currently, cryptocurrency mining is only accessible to those that have access to highly discounted energy—below $0.05/kWh,” said Sunil Pai, (above) who performed the research at Stanford and is now at quantum computing company PsiQuantum. “Our low-energy chips will make it possible for individuals all over the world to participate in mining profitably.”

“Our approach to photonic blockchain could also be used for applications beyond cryptocurrency such as securely transferring data for medical records, smart contracts and voting,” said Pai. “This work paves the way for low-energy optical computing, which, ultimately, can reduce data centers’ energy consumption.”

LightHash improves upon a scheme the team previously developed called HeavyHash that is currently used in cryptocurrency networks such as Optical Bitcoin and Kaspa.

“The major motivation for LightHash was HeavyHash’s high sensitivity to hardware error,” said Pai. “Since analog computers, including photonic ones, struggle to achieve low error rates, we designed LightHash to maintain all the security properties of HeavyHash, while improving its robustness to error.”

The experimental results achieved with the silicon photonic chip matched those obtained using simulated error predictions. “Our results suggest that LightHash can be feasibly computed at scale using current silicon photonic chip technology,” said Pai. “Essentially, we have devised a way to use analog optical circuits to perform multiplications at near zero power dissipation yet precisely enough for use in a digital encryption scheme.”

For LightHash to demonstrate considerable advantages over digital equivalents, it must be scaled up to 64 inputs and outputs. The researchers are also working to further reduce energy consumption by designing low-power electromechanical tuning elements and energy-efficient converters to turn the optical signals into electrical signals.

The matrix multiplication functions could also be used for to make training and application of photonic neural networks more energy efficient compared to conventional digital implementations.

“It will be interesting to see how cryptocurrency technology evolves and to what extent photonics can contribute to the increasingly mainstream role of decentralized ledgers in society today,” said Pai.



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