There is a lot of misleading commentary about smart contracts, leading to confusion about what they are and what they can do. Here are three of the most common myths that I have noticed. This builds on a previous piece, a gentle introduction to smart contracts.
Following on from the “Blockchain is a solution looking for a problem” narrative of 2016, distributed ledger technology has evolved.
Distributed ledgers – databases with shared control over what and how data is added – can be seen a strategic solution to the “reconciliation” workaround that we have had to put up with until now. This strategic solution is applicable to all industries, not just financial services.
I enjoyed listening to Episode 151 of the podcast “Epicenter” (previously “Epicenter Bitcoin”) featuring Ian Grigg, inventor of Ricardian Contracts and blogger at Financial Cryptography. Here are my notes – part transcription, with some edits. This one is a goldmine and covers many topics: bonds, contracts, cash, Chaumian e-cash, DigiCash, financial cryptography, Ricardian contracts, digital signatures, smart contracts, dispute resolution, Ethereum, triple entry book-keeping, oh my!
Misunderstandings and paraphrasing errors are entirely mine.
This gets fairly technical; if this is hard to follow, it may be helpful to read my introduction to smart contracts first. Hmm, if it’s still hard to follow, also read about blockchains and bitcoin and Ethereum, and digital tokens.
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.
Over the past year I have come across many blockchain ‘proof of concepts’, that take existing business ideas or challenges and apply a specific technical design (blockchains) to the solution. The usual problem/solution decision process has been turned on its head:
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.