Currently a number of central banks around the world are exploring two things:
- A decentralised interbank payment system
- A central bank digital currency
Though often conflated, these are slightly different concepts. You can decentralise your interbank payment systems without allowing the public to have digital access to the central bank’s balance sheet, and vice versa.
This short post is about the first set of experiments: decentralising the interbank payment systems.
Ethereum builds on blockchain and cryptocurrency concepts, so if you are not familiar with these, it’s worth reading a gentle introduction to bitcoin and a gentle introduction to blockchain technology first. This article assumes the reader has a basic familiarity with how Bitcoin works.
I enjoyed listening to episode 112 of the podcast “Epicenter Bitcoin” where Casey Kuhlman, CEO of Eris Industries was interviewed. Here are my notes on parts that I found particularly interesting. Misunderstandings and paraphrasing errors are mine.
If this is hard to follow, it may be helpful to read my introductions to blockchains, bitcoin, digital tokens, and smart contracts first.
What are people talking about when they talk about smart contracts?
In the context of blockchains and cryptocurrencies, smart contracts are:
– pre-written logic (computer code),
– stored and replicated on a distributed storage platform (eg a blockchain),
– executed/run by a network of computers (usually the same ones running the blockchain),
– and can result in ledger updates (cryptocurrency payments, etc).
… In other words, they are little programs that execute “if this happens then do that”, run and verified by many computers to ensure trustworthiness.
If blockchains give us distributed trustworthy storage, then smart contracts give us distributed trustworthy calculations.
Smart contracts are one of the functionalities that sets Ethereum apart from other blockchains.
This article is a gentle introduction to bitcoin and assumes minimal technical knowledge.
Shorter companion pieces to this are:
In the popular media, you will often read comments like “Bitcoins are stored in a digital wallet”, or “You can send money using blockchain technology”. These comments can be misleading and can confuse. By the end of this you should understand enough to participate in a dinnertime conversation about bitcoin, and not be mystified by the topic.