Smart Contracts 101

KMWlogo_Stacked_Session Description:

Smart contracts are based on a computer protocol intended to digitally facilitate, verify, or enforce the negotiation or performance of a contract. They allow the performance of credible transactions without third parties, and are trackable and irreversible. Their potential in real estate, law, intellectual property, and many more places is amazing. Private blockchains have also been suggested for business use. Hear more from our speakers and see if this technology has an application in your organization.

Speaker: Hugh Logue, Director & Lead Analyst, Outsell

[These are my notes from the new Blockchain in Government conference, which is part of the KMWorld 2018 Conference. I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, so they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]

NOTES:

  • Smart Contracts.¬† They are not smart and may not even be legal contracts. Vitalik Buterin (one of the founders of Ethereum) says that a better name for them might be “persistent scripts.”
    • Example: you buy a car and the financing contract says that if you miss a contract, the dealer can repossess the car. Before the smart contract, the dealer would have to physically repossess the car. With smart contracts (plus today’s computerized cars), you miss a payment and then the car refuses to start for you. Only the dealer (or the dealer’s delegate) can start the car.
  • How Smart Contracts Work.
    • Coding contract — the parties to the contract agree to a set of if-then statements that kick into effect upon the occurrence of a triggering event.
    • Triggering Event — when the triggering event occurs, the persistent script (if-then statement) takes effect and self-executes. It can do this without any human intervention.
    • Regulation
  • Smart Contract Advantages.
    • Scalability — self-executing without manual checks. So you have thousands, millions of contracts operating at once.
    • No intermediaries required — the contracts operate autonomously
    • Trust — it is coded into the contract
    • Unambiguous — the contract involves machine readable binary code rather than legalese
    • Auditable — there is proof of performance. It’s not one person’s word against anothers.
  • Disadvantages of Smart Contracts.
    • Scalability — if you have not included a “stop” function, the self-executing function could be triggered (at scale) without any way to stop it.
    • No intermediaries — so who do you sue when something goes wrong?
    • Trust — so what happens when there are security breaches or scams?
    • Unambiguous — it is written in binary code not human language. So it is easily machine readable but not easily readable by a judge in a dispute.
    • Currency – at this point, smart contracts work only with cryptocurencies
  • What is driving the popularity of smart contracts?
    • the internet of things
    • disintermediation — Amazon and others are pushing out the middleman in transactions
    • mainstream companies are offering blockchain services — SAP, oracle, Microsoft, Cisco, IBM, Amazon.
  • How can Governments Support Blockchain.
    • understand that blockchain does not just mean cryptocurencies
    • establish standards for smart contracts
    • create legal certainty
    • provide R&D funding
    • modernize ID systems and public records
      • one good use of smart contracts is wills, trusts, and probate. If a death is a matter of public record, then probate could be expedited.
      • this cannot happen if the relevant public records are not accurate and digitized.
    • launch official cryptocurrencies linked to real currencies
    • experiment!
    • Examples:
      • Sierra Leone is experimenting with blockchain supported voting
      • Estonia has created a an digital ID system on the blockchain
  • Use Cases.
    • Proving property rights: Hernando de Soto (Peruvian economist, president of the Institute for Liberty) posited that proof of fomal property rights could unlock approximately $10 trillion of capital.
      • with reliable proof of property rights, property owners can then obtain mortgages to help fund imporvements to their property.
      • smart contracts could then be written using the subject property as collateral
    • Legal Industry could use blockchain for
      • know your client (KYC)
      • tracking filings
      • dispute resolution
      • probate and wills
      • repetitive contracts
      • intellectual property
    • Insurance
      • flight insurance: Fizzy by AXA uses flight delay data from air traffic control. When your flight lands, Fizzy automaticaly pays the passenger the agreed amount for the delay. The passenger will not have to make a claim.
      • Car insurance: in the large¬† number of cases where the parties involved don’t dispute the facts, a smart contract could immediately pay the claim.
      • Natural disaster insurance: use weather data to trigger an automatic payment
    • Supply Chain Logistics
      • non-linguistic sensory data (GPS, temperature, weather, etc.) can be managed by smart contracts
  • Smart Contract Startups to Watch.
    • Blockstream partnership with PwC
    • ChromaWay
    • Consensys
    • Clause
    • OpenLaw
  • Private vs Public Blockchain.
    • Public
      • everyone can see, may need permission to write
      • greater transparency
    • Private
      • need permission to see, may need permission to write
      • greater privacy
      • one or more entities control
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