Smart contracts, like any other contract, spell out the parameters of a business or agreement. On the other hand, smart contracts are defined and executed as code running on a blockchain rather than on paper on a lawyer’s desk, making them “smart.” Smart contracts build on Bitcoin’s core concept of sending and receiving money without needing a “trusted intermediary” like a bank in the middle, allowing for the secure automation and decentralization of practically any type of deal or transaction, no matter how complicated. They also provide security, stability, and borderless accessibility because they run on a blockchain like Ethereum.
Smart contracts are an important part of the blockchain technology introduction. It aids in making transactions safer and more secure, as well as ensuring that they go smoothly. Not only that, but it also makes other components, such as apps that run on these platforms, more accessible.
What is a Smart Contract?
A smart contract is a self-executing contract in which the conditions of the buyer-seller agreement are put directly into lines of code. The code, as well as the agreements it contains, are disseminated throughout a decentralised blockchain network. Transactions are trackable and irreversible, and the programming regulates their execution.
Smart contracts eliminate the need for a central authority, legal system, or external enforcement mechanism to carry out trustworthy transactions and agreements between distant, anonymous participants.
While blockchain technology is most known for being the foundation for bitcoin, it has progressed much beyond that. Smart contracts allow developers to construct apps that take advantage of blockchain security, stability, and accessibility while enabling advanced peer-to-peer functionality — everything from loans and insurance to logistics and gaming.
Despite the term, smart contracts are not legally binding contracts. Their major job is to programmatically execute business logic that conducts various operations, processes or transactions that have been programmed into them to respond to a particular set of situations. Legal actions must be made to relate its execution to legally enforceable agreements between parties.
History of the Smart Contract
Smart contracts were initially proposed in 1994 by Nick Szabo, an American computer scientist who established a virtual currency called “Bit Gold” in 1998, fully 10 years before the birth of bitcoin. In fact, Szabo is widely suspected to be the genuine Satoshi Nakamoto, the anonymous inventor of bitcoin, which he has denied.
Szabo defined smart contracts as computerised transaction protocols that execute the terms of a contract. He sought to extend the capability of electronic transaction systems, such as POS (point of sale), to the digital arena.
In his work, Szabo also proposed the execution of a contract for synthetic assets, such as derivatives and bonds. Szabo wrote: “These new assets are generated by mixing securities (such as bonds) and derivatives (options and futures) in a broad variety of ways. Very complex term structures for payments can now be integrated into standardised contracts and exchanged with low transaction costs, due to computerised analysis of these complex term structures.”
Many of Szabo’s forecasts in the paper came true in ways preceding blockchain technology. For example, derivatives trading is now primarily conducted over computer networks using complicated term structures.
How Smart Contracts Work
Smart contracts work by following basic “if/when…then…” phrases that are encoded into code on a blockchain. A network of computers executes the activities when preset circumstances have been met and validated. These actions could include releasing payments to the right parties, registering a vehicle, providing alerts, or issuing a ticket. The blockchain is then updated when the transaction is finished. That means the transaction cannot be modified, and only parties who have been authorised permission can access the outcomes.
Within a smart contract, there can be as many specifications as needed to convince the participants that the task will be executed correctly. To set the conditions, participants must identify how transactions and associated data are represented on the blockchain, agree on the “if/when…then…” rules that govern those transactions, explore any possible exceptions, and design a framework for resolving disputes.
Then the smart contract can be developed by a developer — although increasingly, firms that use blockchain for business give templates, web interfaces, and other online tools to facilitate building smart contracts.
Benefits of Smart Contracts
Speed, efficiency and accuracy
Once the criteria are met, the contract is immediately executed. Since smart contracts are digital and automatic, there’s no paperwork to complete and also no time spent correcting errors that typically occur from manually filling in documentation.
Blockchain transaction records are encoded, which makes them incredibly hard to hack. Moreover, because each record is tied to the past and consecutive records on a distributed ledger, hackers would have to manipulate the entire chain to change a single record.
Trust and transparency
Because there’s no third party engaged, and because encoded records of operations are shared across participants, there’s little need to question whether data has been manipulated for personal profit.
Smart contracts reduce the need for middlemen to manage transactions and, by extension, their accompanying time delays and fees.
Smart contract Use Cases
With the greater transparency offered by smart contracts (combined with 24/7 functioning, and reduced costs), DApps have the ability to lower the barriers to entry into the financial services arena for people all over the world.
DeFi projects have already garnered billions of U.S. dollars in value and seek to continue this trend as more and more individuals get familiar with the unique value propositions of the sector. Users can engage in this new generation of financial services without the requirement for centralised custody or fees from middlemen. Although the DeFi sector is only a few years old, given the number of creative DApps that are already offering value and utility to consumers, the implications of smart-contract-powered dApps on the financial industry are already being felt.
NFTs and Gaming
Developers produce and release games, and gamers pay to play and engage with such games. This creates a one-directional flow of value where users spend money to obtain access to in-game materials and gameplay options. In contrast, blockchain technology in gaming can enable users to capture the usefulness and value of in-game purchases and asset acquisitions more effectively.
Blockchain technology in gaming is often driven by non-fungible tokens (NFTs) — unique digital assets that represent in-game content. NFTs rely on smart contracts. These tokens are unique, scarce, and indivisible, while the blockchain networks that support NFTs facilitate player ownership, proving scarcity, interoperability, and immutability. Together, these qualities of blockchain in gaming have the potential to drive widespread adoption and a more equitable value model.
Perhaps one of the most interesting real-world smart contract use cases is their potential to function as legally enforceable contracts — the kind that informs most of today’s commercial agreements. Technology has been pushing innovation in the legal business, most recently with the development of e-signatures for binding legal agreements. Smart contracts offer another new development in this field, and may soon be an alternative for parties to legal agreements, potentially cutting the costs paid by utilising lawyers and other middlemen.
The widespread usage of bespoke smart contracts for many types of transactions that can cut prices and boost transaction speeds may be closer than you think.
Through tokenization, smart contracts are promoting the fractional ownership of assets and therefore decreasing the barrier to entry for investment for many by mixing blockchain and real estate transactions. In particular, there have been a number of successful initiatives in tokenizing real estate assets, including via platforms like RealT and SolidBlock that integrate blockchain with real estate. Smart contract technology can potentially revamp the documentation and transaction processes by utilising blockchain in real estate deals.
Anyone who has purchased a home or other property is undoubtedly aware of the possibility of hidden expenditures associated with closing fees, title transfers, and broker fees. These are costs that might be lowered or even avoided by automatically executing smart contracts that function free of intermediaries.
Some experts even believe that smart contracts can benefit parties by streamlining rental agreements and complex credit or mortgage arrangements, as well as warranties and insurance. By implementing smart contracts and blockchain in real estate, the necessity for legal counsel or other advisory services becomes less necessary, potentially decreasing costs across the board.
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