What Are Smart Contracts And How Do They Work? 0 109

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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The Patent That Wants to Fix Crypto’s Volatility 0 220

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.

After the Death of Net Neutrality, We Need a Decentralized Internet 0 288

Net neutrality died more quietly than expected. It’s been almost two months since the FCC’s ruling to make internet access vulnerable to corporate meddling, thanks to FCC chairman and Verizon advocate Ajit Pai. And not much seems to have changed on the web browsing citizen’s end. Major ISPs Comcast, Verizon and AT&T have all indicated that they have no plans to block or throttle traffic, or to prioritize paid content. So rest easy, dear ones. The sharks have promised not to bite.

Of course, that’s really no reason to celebrate. As of June 11th, “there is nothing legally preventing companies like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T from arbitrarily censoring entire categories of apps, sites and online services, or charging Internet users expensive new fees to access them,” notes Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, a nonprofit advocating for digital equality.

Fight for the Future is just one organization working for a free digital world. All around, and in part thanks to the FCC’s ruling, people are switching on to the notion that open connectivity should be a right and not a privilege. And some folks are getting a crazy idea: if we can’t have net neutrality, we may just have to build another internet.

Building Our Own Internet

That’s exactly what people have been doing in Detroit. To combat the emergence of a “digital class system,” and in response to the scarcity and prohibitive costs of ISP connection, residents and volunteer members of the Equitable Internet Initiative, or EII, are building their own internet infrastructure.

Over on the Pala Reservation in Southern California, meanwhile, indigenous communities are tired of waiting for a connection. So they’re taking matters into their own hands and repurposing unused analog TV channels to broadcast their own free and neutral internet across the rez. They call it Tribal Digital Village.

Efforts like the EII and Tribal Digital Village are proving that we can take control of our connectivity and decouple it from the stratification of economic privilege.

Reinventing the Internet Altogether

Radical community efforts to build DIY networks are inspiring and powerful. But perhaps we can go even farther. The internet still works on an old model that has plenty of room for improvement. Let’s say you’re sitting in a public library, messaging your zine collaborator across the table. There’s no direct internet connection between your phones, so your message has to go up into the nebulous cloud of internet before it bounces back down to their phone. Not entirely efficient, considering they’re sitting right there.

If you had a direct connection, the signal could just travel across the table. That would be possible using a mesh network, like the one proposed by RightMesh. In their mesh network model, every device becomes a hotspot in a decentralized connective network.

Why volunteer your device as a public hotspot? Because you get tokens, of course. This is blockchain! Like the EII and Tribal Digital Village, this is a cooperative and participatory system that relies on no centralized authority (like a corporate ISP). Everyone volunteers their device as a hotspot, gets rewarded with tokens, and just like that, we have a decentralized internet.

Without the need for ISPs, we would be free from Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T. We could run open-armed through the proverbial fields of digital wildflowers. The possibilities of this go well beyond urbanite convenience. A global mesh network could bring internet connection to any part of the globe where there are phones—even phones not connected to wifi. In this system, the phones create the wifi.

An Off-the-Grid Internet

RightMesh’s stated goal is to “connect the next billion people and lift 100 million out of poverty.” They claim to be the first P2P network that requires neither infrastructure nor network connectivity to operate.

That said, they’re not alone. Blockmesh is doing something similar. Moeco’s ‘global IoT connectivity platform’ uses mesh network principles for IoT gadgets. And Open Garden allows ISP customers to ‘sell’ your underutilized connection (extra bandwidth at home, or unused data from your mobile plan) to your neighbors for tokens.

All these ideas are packed with possibility. But the point is, with the grassroots efforts of groups like the EII and Tribal Digital Village, and with blockchain innovation pushing the definition of the internet forward, we’re looking at a future where the connection is universal, accessible, fast, cheap, self-generating, decentralized and off the grid. Someday soon we might be thanking the FCC for spurring these advances.

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