One of the most frustrating things about being part of the Chia community is watching people opine on Twitter about the benefits of Bitcoin, while handwaving away the energy cost. Or even worse, calling the energy use a feature instead of a bug. It needs to be said that Satoshi did not anticipate what Bitcoin would become. The original Bitcoin whitepaper very clearly mentioned “1 CPU 1 vote” in an era where CPU scaling was a lot more linear than it is today and where there were no insanely efficient Bitcoin mining ASICs. So what does this have to do with Chia?
Whether you like the idea or not, Bram Cohen and Ryan Singer clearly envisioned Chia originally as a “better Bitcoin”, not an “Ethereum killer”. The entire thing is designed to accentuate the strengths of Bitcoin, the UTXO coin model, the decentralized node structure, while solving some of the biggest problems with the original. I don’t want to get into the nuances of how much less energy Chia uses than Bitcoin or Ethereum, but only a moron would suggest its not less wasteful to some degree. If you want proof, check the Twitter thread above. Lots of morons there arguing about how good burning coal for money is. That’s the major Bitcoin weakness addressed by Chia, and is integral to their design philosophy.
The other big problems in Bitcoin identified by Chia Network and designed against are the incentivization to centralize mining resources and relative lack of programmability and utility. The trend over time for Bitcoin to centralize has been the subject of a lot of debate. Most Bitcoin blocks at this point are signed by a small number of keys, as the mining pools have taken over completely.
Chia addresses this by splitting the block rewards into a “pool reward” and a “farmer reward”, with the farmer signing the blocks directly (not the pool signing on their behalf) and collecting a reward with fees directly from the network. This means that absent some major design changes to the pooling protocol farmers will all continue to run their own nodes and sign their own blocks. This is a stark difference to Bitcoin and Ethereum, and while it comes with some tradeoffs it has some unexpected benefits as well (such as the ability for a pool to continue to farm and collect rewards even while the pool infrastructure is offline).
As for the programmability this is more of a mixed bag. Chia has full support for a lot of the programmability of Bitcoin through special coins and transactions. But it also has a Turing Complete on-chain programming language called Chialisp. Chialisp has a pretty steep learning curve, but it was designed to address a lot of the issues faced by the Ethereum/Solidity-based DeFi ecosystem with something much more robust and secure. Using a better base for on-chain programming than Bitcoin or Ethereum has its drawbacks as well, like a relatively high bar to entry for the Chia ecosystem, but I’m told it makes it a lot less easy to produce garbage smart contracts the way it is on other smart chains.
It is always odd to me in the field of disruptive technology when early adopters choose a platform and exalt it as the perfect solution. There are no perfect solutions in life, and everything will continue to improve. Always. Someone working in technological disruption should understand that everything they build will eventually be disrupted. If that was not true the perfect solutions would have been developed long before any of us were born. Chia might not be the “better bitcoin” that Chia Network envisions, but something will be.