Smart Contracts

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Smart Contracts 

Article by Nick Szabo from 1996 on Smart Contracts:

“The contract, a set of promises agreed to in a "meeting of the minds", is the traditional way to formalize a relationship. While contracts are primarily used in business relationships (the focus of this article), they can also involve personal relationships such as marraiges. Contracts are also important in politics, not only because of "social contract" theories but also because contract enforcement has traditionally been considered a basic function of capitalist governments. 

Whether enforced by a government, or otherwise, the contract is the basic building block of a free market economy. Over many centuries of cultural evolution has emerged both the concept of contract and principles related to it, encoded into common law. Algorithmic information theory suggests that such evolved structures are often prohibitively costly to recompute. If we started from scratch, using reason and experience, it could take many centuries to redevelop sophisticated ideas like property rights that make the modern free market work [Hayek].

The success of the common law of contracts, combined with the high cost of replacing it, makes it worthwhile to both preserve and to make use of these principles where appropriate. Yet, the digital revolution is radically changing the kinds of relationships we can have. What parts of our hard-won legal tradition will still be valuable in the cyberspace era? What is the best way to apply these common law principles to the design of our on-line relationships? 

Computers make possible the running of algorithms heretofore prohibitively costly, and networks the quicker transmission of larger and more sophsiticated messages. Furthermore, computer scientists and cryptographers have recently discovered many new and quite interesting algorithms. Combining these messages and algorithms makes possible a wide variety of new protocols. 

New institutions, and new ways to formalize the relationships that make up these institutions, are now made possible by the digital revolution. I call these new contracts "smart", because they are far more functional than their inanimate paper-based ancestors. No use of artificial intelligence is implied. A smart contract is a set of promises, specified in digital form, including protocols within which the parties perform on these promises.” 

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