What Are Smart Contracts And How Do They Work? 4 178

After hearing about the capabilities of the blockchain and its transparency and decentralization, the next term you’ll come up against is inevitably smart contracts. While you don’t need to know everything about the blockchain technology and how it works, it’s useful to get a feel for what a smart contract is. Not least because they are likely to become the new normal across all industries in the not-too-distant future. So, let’s cut to the chase:

What Are Smart Contracts?

A smart contract is a digital contract that verifies and enforces the agreed-upon terms between the parties involved. Smart contracts allow for fast and efficient transactions to take place without the need for lawyers or other third parties. They are self-enforcing and provide security and transparency, while reducing associated contracting costs and middlemen fees.

They also help with the speed of transactions, since smart contracts can ensure payments are made and terms are respected in real time, with no human interaction. Once a transaction has been made, it is irreversible and all transactions are trackable.

Smart contracts can be put to use in any area that can benefit from efficient documentation and reducing corruption. The agricultural industry is an example in which there are many stakeholders involved in the supply chain and much room for error and corruption.

With smart contracts, every stage of the supply chain is regulated and publicly available for anyone to see. Smart contracts are set to resolve the supply chain problem in the tequila industry, and more and more cryptocurrencies are making use of them.

Smart contracts, as with other aspects of the blockchain, allow for the democratization of many industries and the cutting out of middlemen. In the music industry, for example, smart contracts enable the artist to sell directly to the buyer and receive the payment they deserve. They can also be implemented to make sure that any royalties are automatically paid out, each time a song is played in a public place.

Supporting Instant Payments

Smart contracts are essential to supporting instant payments where certain conditions are met. As more and more enterprise blockchain applications roll out, the majority will certainly use smart contracts.

To simplify the function of a smart contract, you can think of it as a small computer program that follows an If/Then structure. For example, if you allow me to gain access to my favorite song or TV show, then I will transfer the funds into your account. They automatically trigger a transfer of information that can reduce human error and make routine processes simpler.

Transactions can be worth pennies, when it comes to a piece of music or the payment for consumer data, or they can run in the millions of dollars. The security is the same. No billing is needed as everything is recorded and the payment happens instantly, removing the worry and delay that happens with bank transfers. Smart contracts can also verify that adequate funding is available before allowing the transaction to occur.

Smart contracts could be one of the most important factors to come out of cryptocurrency, as they could disrupt the entire way we engage in commerce. Companies could launch their own cryptos and engage consumers in their products and ecosystem, in a world in which fiat currencies can no longer compete.

But will that happen anytime soon?

Volatility of Cryptocurrencies Remains an Issue

When arranging payment in cryptocurrencies, one continued problem is how to price a transaction when its value is fluctuating so dramatically every day. This is still an issue with cryptocurrency and not something anyone has an immediate solution for.

For now, one way around this as payments through smart contracts become more widespread, is to use stable value cryptocurrencies, like Tether, LiteCoin or Monero, rather than volatile ones like Ether and Bitcoin.

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Christina is a technology and business communicator who has worked with high profile ICOs and blockchain influencers to break industry news.

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VEZT Wants You to be Able to Own Shares of Your Favorite Songs 5 394

Mr. Cheeks has been producing music since the early 90s, under the mentorship of his late uncle, the legendary Gil Scott-Heron. He started with the Lost Boyz, won a Grammy for his work with Stephen Marley, and has released a handful of solo albums since.

Now, royalties for his singles will be available to his fans, thanks to the blockchain. Mr. Cheeks’ songs will be available on a platform that allows fans and investors to claim a slice of the rights to pop music they believe in. When the song is licensed for use, in advertising or film for example, you, the investor, get a cut.

It’s made possible through an app called VEZT, which is positioning itself to revolutionize the way music relates to money as the world’s “first music rights marketplace.” VEZT partnered with a long time Mr. Cheeks producer, Bink, to offer shares of the song “Lights, Camera, Action” which is currently available on the company’s website.

The Problem of Selling Music

Mixing music and markets is an old problem. How should musicians get paid? Who pays them? What about their support teams? How do we keep track of the flow of money and make sure everyone’s fairly compensated? Among the music world’s financial obstacles, one of the biggest issues is navigating licensing and royalties.

In Austin, for example, one of America’s most proficient music hubs, almost a third of musicians make less than minimum wage, and 70 percent are earning less than $10k per year on their work. That’s below the poverty line even for a household of one. It’s been like pulling teeth trying to get royalties from companies like Spotify, who generate income off their songs. Meanwhile even more expensive lawsuits pile up, or go completely unpursued from lack of funds, as marketers continue to ape good music with copyright infringing fakes. It’s a constant headache for musicians, producers and labels, and it makes it prohibitive to eke out a living in the music world.

Under VEZT’s model, royalties are simple. Music is intellectual property owned by the artist. The artist can sell a portion of those rights to fans, who become investors when they purchase a percentage of shares. Fans and musicians make an agreement to co-own the songs they both care so much about. If you love a song and want to see it do well, you invest. If it does well, you have a share in the artist’s success. Royalties are split based on percentage of ownership.

The concept comes from cofounders Robert Menendez, a former Wall St. financial trader/analyst, and Steve Stewart, an industry regular with entrepreneurial tendencies, whose accomplishments include ushering Stone Temple Pilots to fame in the early ‘90s and managing the band for a decade. They say they founded VEZT as part of a vision to “detangle a lot of the financial problems in the music industry, and connect fans more directly with the music they love.”

And now, they’ve expanded across the Pacific from VEZT’s headquarters in Los Angeles, and opened an office in South Korea.

‘The Perfect Environment’

“The fans of music in Korea are quite possibly the most enthusiastic and active fans on the planet,” says Stewart. “Combine this with a robust tech community and a government leading the way in adopting blockchain technologies and you have a perfect environment for VEZT.”

The ROK’s new legislation legitimizing crypto exchange, Dapps, and blockchain systems will take the peninsula farther into a brave new technological world, where many others have so far feared to tread. Combined with their now-world-famous maximalist pop industry, and it’s not hard to see why VEZT moved in.

Construction recently finished on their new 2500 square foot office in the Gangnam district of Seoul. VEZT has enlisted a host of professionals to their C-Suite, including veterans of major Korean record labels, Kpop producers, marketing and PR executives and, of course, tech experts.

Fixing Music With Blockchain

If their model works in Seoul and LA, VEZT could bring a more harmonious rhythm to an industry still trying to find its groove in the digital age. The world needs music, and musicians need to get paid. As with anything blockchain, cutting out some of the middlemen could be the Occam’s razor with the solution. When fans are directly invested in their music, everyone will want to see it succeed.

The Patent That Wants to Fix Crypto’s Volatility 5 344

The number of blockchain-related jobs posted on LinkedIn more than tripled last year, according to CryptoCoin News. And blockchain patent filings more than doubled. Companies and individuals alike are innovating, exploring the blockchain’s well of possibilities. Major fintech companies, meanwhile, are gobbling up blockchain patents like they’re going out of style. But cryptocurrencies themselves still have yet to see a mainstream embrace.

The main problem with crypto right now is the same problem people have been talking about since Satoshi Nakamoto said Let there be Bitcoin: volatility. And ever since Bitcoin’s dramatic rise and fall around the turn of last year, cryptos have become virtually synonymous with wild fluctuations.

This reputation has given Bitcoin specifically, and cryptos in general, a mixed reputation. By now we’ve all heard the songs of praises from evangelists and the sour sneers of financial titans alike. Crypto is exciting because it’s unstable; crypto is unrealistic for the same reason.

The Primary Criticism of Cryptos

According to Eric Lamison-White, founder of the investor’s crypto intel platform Pareto Network, volatility is the “primary criticism of cryptocurrencies.”

But he doesn’t think it has to be that way. What if you could stabilize your crypto accounts? Lamison-White says the risks of owning cryptos are “easily mitigated by a variety of hedging techniques that are available in all other asset classes.”

He proposes treating crypto accounts like more traditional assets. “Hedging with options, futures and swaps allow for stable value or any risk profile that an owner or even a speculator would desire.”

That’s the idea behind his patent, filed in 2014, for a structure of interconnected accounts. The system “removes volatility from owning cryptocurrencies,” Lamison-White says, transferring its fluctuations into a hedge account. Here’s how it works.

Lamison-White’s System

The system requires at least two accounts: one for your cryptos and one you’ve funded with fiat currency, let’s say $400 US dollars. These accounts connect to a network of decentralized nodes, which measure the amount of cryptocurrency you have from moment to moment. If there’s any drop in the crypto’s value, the system automatically deducts from your $400 in the other account and transfers it to compensate. When the value of your crypto goes back up, the system re-deposits back into your fiat account.

This holds the value of your crypto assets steady, while transferring its volatility to your hedge account.

What makes it unique compared to other trading systems is that crypto assets can be divided into infinitely small portions. “A futures contract on oil costs $80,000 for example, although a trader only needs to put up maybe $4,000 as a minimum,” Lamison-White says. “This is because the contract represents the price of 1,000 barrels of oil or something crazy.” He notes that even hedging stocks are usually offered in units of 100 or 1,000.

Not so with crypto, where the “infinite divisibility of the asset itself” makes hedging much more finely tuned. Because cryptos are pure math instead of physical assets, “arbitrary sized contracts can be traded just as easily with larger contracts.” One future could represent one bitcoin, for example, but you can also trade in .01 increments. With fractional futures and options, people with very small amounts of cryptocurrency can be shielded from price fluctuations in a way that had only been available to the wealthiest and investment banks for most of the last millennia.

The System at Scale

The system gets even more interesting when you make it scalable. According to Lamison-White, you could have multiple people funding and connecting to the same hedge account, each using it to stabilize their own crypto accounts. Alternatively, you could connect multiple hedge accounts to a single crypto account. Suddenly the possibilities extrapolate, like tinkertoys, developing into an interconnected network of crypto- and fiat-funded accounts, with a variety of owners controlling their assets at a variety of access points, everything regulated with the intelligence and transparency of a decentralized ledger.

Patents Like This are Attracting Corporate Giants

There’s a feeding frenzy going on for patents like these. Visa filed a patent for a B2B blockchain payment system, Mastercard developed its own blockchain patent for anonymous transactions, and Wal-Mart has come out with a few as well. But it’s Bank of America that’s gobbling up the most. With claims to at least 43 live blockchain patents, the financial giant holds more than any other person or company.

Whether they’re just trying to get a leg up on the future of tech, or positioning themselves to harangue the little guy with barrages of lawsuits for intellectual property rights, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Whether or not Lamison-White anticipated the blockchain patent arms race, he was ahead of the curve, filing for his patent in 2014. It could be the thing to finally put skeptical minds to rest about the viability of crypto assets. And with big financial institutions like Bank of America placing a premium on innovative blockchain patents, he may have spun ether into gold.

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