IT and finance
Ethereum fulfils the promise of Bitcoin
Bitcoin’s central aspiration is to solve the significant inefficiencies in the banking system: the crypto-currency has reduced transfer times from days to milliseconds, cut transaction fees to a minimum and opened up the market potential of less developed countries via borderless banking. Like Bitcoin, Ethereum can also optimise transactions, but it has the further potential to revolutionise any area that can be regulated by contract – from money transfers, wills and insurance policies up to elections. It achieves this through “smart contracts”, by operating as intermediary between two contracting parties and retaining the good or service at stake until both parties have fulfilled their part of the contract. Thus, unlike Bitcoin, Ethereum is not merely currency but stands on a protocol, which completes all and any actions as contract.
Use-cases are highly diverse: The Ethereum-based prediction platform Augur withholds stakes put on predictions until reliable sources announce the results and then automatically transfers them to the winner’s account (e.g. in the currency Ether). The start-up Slock.it uses Ethereum to open and close locks. If a set of conditions between two Slock.it-users is contractually fulfilled, an electronic key is automatically passed from one party (lockmaster) to the other (key-holder), enabling her to open the desired lock. Homeowners using Ethereum to sublet their home directly and safely to other users would come with interesting implications for service providers such as Airbnb, which perform precisely this function. A similarly curious case is ride-sharing start-up Arcade City, which started in March as a reaction to the sudden rate cuts at Uber and Lyft. It allows drivers to set the price of their trips themselves and even offer additional services such as parcel deliveries, all governed by smart contracts instead of a centralized company platform. Already now, Arcade City is referred to as Uber killer.
The radical decentralisation of all areas of contracts through platforms such as Ethereum has ironic potential: Uber and Airbnb, which once squeezed out taxi and rental companies, could themselves be replaced in the future – by an even more decentralised system, which gets by without intermediaries securing the contracts.
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