“Smart Contracts” Will Change the World
It seems like only yesterday that Expert Systems were going to change the world, and while they have the overall impact does not live up to the hype of 1990’s. Let’s take a closer look at “Smart Contracts” and attempt to separate the hype from reality.
In 2016 “Smart Contracts” can be described as blockchain based agreements. As such they contain terms as well as currency related to those terms. If we create a smart contract on a bet of $50 that it will rain tomorrow, the contract will have a way of validating the existence of rain and $50 payout in cryptocurrency.
Because it is a blockchain contract there will be other attributes worth noting. If it is on a public blockchain like ethereum or bitcoin it may be available for everyone with access to the blockchain to see. If it exists on a private blockchain only those with access to that blockchain can see it.
For the most part once the contract is created it cannot be changed. It could be amended or superseded if those provisions were provided in the original version.
Let’s look back as history has lessons. 1993 I was working with a new product likewise positioned to change the world, at least the business world, Lotus Notes! At the time it was a radical departure from existing business systems in that it treated networked communications as its focus where previously computation was the focus of most computing of the day.
Another interesting aspect of Lotus Notes that caught the eye of this Expert System builder was the ability to create “agents” that would execute on triggers. In essence this is what was at the heart of many expert systems engines. Along comes Lotus Notes binding communications with agents and whole new avenues of possibilities open up.
I abandoned Expert Systems which were proving to be to maintenance intensive for complex domains of dynamic expertise. Lotus Notes provided a transparent, distributed network of knowledge capture complete with a Turing complete language. Lacking were the immutability, consensus, and distributed nature that enable currency like bitcoin.
At Lotus World (precursor to LotusPhere) I gave a presentation on how to use Lotus Notes to build enterprise knowledge system with Lotus Notes. This would be the cornerstone of a business that would keep me employed for the next 20 years. Capturing business logic into the enterprise network is not too far from capturing legal contract logic into a blockchain network.
Binding business logic to communications empowered with agent scripts did improve many organizations. In one instance we were able to reduce a global consortium contracting process from 24 days to 24 hours. Instead of reams of paper translated into the local language and shipped around the world by UPS, we delivered an electronic contract in the native language within 10 minutes.
Given this easily replicable achievement it’s not a stretch to project that endeavors like the DAO would promise a global protocol where anything is possible and beyond the reach of government and competitive enterprises, after all look at the success of Linux, apache and other open source projects.