This post is also available in: Español
If you’ve been following the blockchain world for any length of time, you may have heard a thing or two about smart contracts. For this emerging trend has garnered a ton of attention across the global crypto community.
Some put obsessive hopes on it, while others are pretty skeptical. Most haven’t formed their own opinion amid the viewpoints of both sides. Therefore, the average everyday person finds it really hard to see the whole picture of what it’s all about. In this article, we objective view of this Smart Contracts concept. First, we’ll consider the difference between traditional and smart contracts before exploring the pros and cons of each.
What is a traditional contract?
It is simply a notarized piece of paper that details actions that are to be performed under certain conditions. Let’s assume there’s a group of individuals who would like to establish rules on how and under which conditions certain values are to be allocated. The fact that they need guarantees is why they decide to create a contract. This paper doesn’t, however, control the actions fulfillment, but only assures it. In case something is done against the contract terms, there’s a court — trusted face of justice, that will work things out if you show enough evidence of lawless actions.
The idea of a programmable contract
A Smart Contract is a programmable contract, ordinarily, executed in a decentralized environment. Just like the paper contract, it specifies the conditions. Along with that, since a smart contract is basically a program code, it carries out actions (which is impossible when we deal with the paper one).
Undoubtedly, the concept of smart contracts is the next step in furthering the relationships between people, companies, and their values. Because now you not only assure conditions under which you are obliged to do certain actions but determine actions that will definitely be executed when these conditions met.
Smart Contracts vs Traditional Contracts
The language of traditional contracts can be complicated. You may think: “Not as difficult as the programming one.” It’s true, but we’re considering it from a bit of a different angle. Here, in order to draw up a contract, you need a lawyer, who will very accurately specify the conditions. Even if he did it in a supremely correct way, in case of some legal proceedings the chances of winning a court case (even if the truth is on your side) commonly relies upon the lawyer’s professionalism. Which in itself proves that the way traditional contracts are constituted can very often be unclear.
Smart Contracts, on the other hand, are programmable. In this way, you no longer need a lawyer, but a developer. So, is that good or bad? As to the complexity, the program code is much less understandable for the regular person than the juridical. However, you have less uncertainty when you deal with the program code.
In addition, before putting a smart contract into action it is being intensely tested. You cannot test a paper contract, but only draw it up and hope that your lawyer is professional enough. Of course, there is no way around bugs, so the professionalism of developers who work out your smart contract is of equal importance with that of lawyers who deal with the paper contract. So, there’s no black and white here.
Smart contracts Do Not Have a Plan B
Again, smart contracts are typically executed in a decentralized environment, where anyone can become a validator and verify the authenticity of the smart contract execution and the state of the database. Distributed and independent validators minimize third-party reliance and give confidence concerning the unchangeability of what is to be done. This is good and bad at the same time:
- Good. Imagine a rental agreement on a Smart Contract. There is only the landlord, tenant and a Smart Contract that fulfills the required actions. The fact that the program code is unchangeable removes the stress of both: tenant and landlord. The parameter of trust is eliminated because the human factor is almost nullified.
- Bad. You cannot change a thing once smart contact is put into action. That’s why a bug can bring to some very unfortunate consequences. Like, for example, the loss of $160 million.
Traditional contracts have a Plan B
In these cases, we’ve gotten used to the Law Court being our Plan B. All of us have Plan Bs: victims who try to win a payout, unemployed trying to increase their income support and even murderers who wish to get away with it. In our world, courts are the center of decision-making. And, again, it is good and bad at the same time:
- Good. In any situation, the court aims to resolve the problem in favour of the side, which is more right according to the jurisdiction. When our relationships are deadlocked, due to any kind of reasons, the court is probably the only solution.
- Bad. The stumbling stone is the human factor. Being the ultimate decision center, the court becomes a pressure point for our relationships. And it’s not really about the loopholes in the law, but namely — bribery.
Fundamental challenges with Smart Contracts
If we think about the main challenges with implementing Smart Contracts in our everyday life, it would be something like this:
- A completely new way of how relationships are built
- Hardships of accepting the ‘new rules’ by the people
- Not applicable to the current legal base
- The necessity of introducing substantially new legal environment
As you can see, the main issue with Smart Contracts is not the development of the program code, but the creation of the proper groundwork, which would allow them to realize their full potential. The backbone of traditional contracts has been constantly growing stronger for thousands of years. In this long path, people learned to co-exist and operate under a regulatory system, elaborate laws, and strong business relationships.
Now, we’re at the very beginning of the new path, where we’ll learn to build much stronger relationships that do not rely on third-parties and trust. This is truly a breaking point, the significance of which is probably higher than that of the railroad revolution in America.
Pavel Kravchenko, Ph.D. is the founder of Distributed Labs