Before you begin I need to inform you, dear reader, that I am a serious nerd and what follows is a double dose of nerdage that you may never recover from. Consider yourself warned.
As a kid I played Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering. I read plenty of fantasy books and watched my fair share of anime. Dragons, medieval weapons, and sorcery occupied far too much of my time and I, like many other nerds out there, desperately wanted something like magic to be real. I would daydream about being able to channel some form of magical energy to cast spells, summon creatures, and control objects around me. Sadly, in the real world, nothing like that existed.
Ethereum is pretty magical, and it’s not just that their logo resembles a Magic: The Gathering expansion set symbol:
Ethereum is a cryptocurrency that, like other cryptocurrencies, allows you to transfer tokens to and from accounts on a decentralized ledger. In Bitcoin those tokens are (obviously named) bitcoins, and in Ethereum those tokens are ether. But Ethereum lets you do something else. Ethereum allows you to create and deploy “smart contracts”. Once deployed these smart contracts exist in the Ethereum space where people and machines can interact with them.
And this is where it gets really cool. Deploying a smart contract is like casting a spell. You write up the contract in an arcane magical language (one of the Ethereum programming languages which have esoteric names like Solidity, Serpent, Mutan, and LLL), and summon it into existence. This conjuring requires the use of ether, a magical fuel much like mana in Magic: The Gathering.
Seriously, it’s just like magic.
An Ethereum contract is like an enchantment or artifact that anyone can call by sending it ether. People, machines, web services, and anything with a connection to the Internet can interact with the smart contracts that exist on the Ethereum blockchain, a realm that no one entity can control and that is always available because it lives as a decentralized system on thousands of computers around the world. And if you don’t want to share your masterful spellcraft with the rest of the world you can lock your contract down so only you can use it.
So what kind of things can you do with smart contracts? Just about anything you are clever enough to code up! You can build a contract for your clan of wizards to pool your ether and store your coven’s by-laws, book of shadows, and facilitate proposals and voting (known as a Decentralized Autonomous Organization, or DAO, in the parlance of the non-magical world). Instead of relying on secret handshakes and passwords for entry to your clandestine meetings, you can use a contract to verify membership (in the mundane world this can be used to authenticate online users or control access rights to buildings and rooms like key cards). You can create your own cryptocurrency (your own magical energy) with your own rules governing it. You can create contracts that create other contracts (spells that create new spells). If you’re really ambitious you can even create an entire magical world in a contract for others to interact with.
If you’ve stuck with me so far you’re probably itching for something tangible, perhaps an example of what one of these spells looks like. Here is a quick example of a contract written in the Solidity programming language that lets the wizard cast a pretty badass spell:
Okay so I’m being a little vague on the exact details of the “badass wizardry” part of the spell, but this post isn’t really about the Solidity programming language so that’s all you get for now. However I can tell you a little something about this particular contract. Once it has been created on the Ethereum network only the sorcerer who originally cast it can use it. If any other wizard tries to use it, it will just take their ether and do nothing. The contract also allows the original caster to destroy it if and when he/she wishes.
While you can easily create stand-alone contracts like the one above the greatest value will come from contracts that interact with the real world through mobile and web apps, Internet of Things (IoT) embedded devices, and contracts that interact with other smart contracts in the Ethereum space.
I’ll leave you with a word of caution in case you get inspired to build something with Ethereum and look to pitch your idea to investors. Modern finance may be a twisted black art, but VCs don’t take too kindly to talk that sounds of witchcraft and Harry Potter. Stick to phrases like “FinTech” and “disruptive innovation” and your pitch will go over much smoother. It’s important to remember that Ethereum is cutting edge technology and it should be treated as such, especially when large sums of money are on the line.
But don’t worry, despite your tech and business jargon deep down you’re really a badass crypto sorcerer.
- Wizard and lightning photos by Theresa Havelka and crudely photoshopped together by Arcturnus
- “Zendikar expsym” copyright Wizards of the Coast and licensed under fair use via Wikipedia
- Ethereum logo from the Ethereum Visual Identity Guide
- Scroll clip art by revans2 on openclipart.org
- Learn more about Ethereum by exploring ethereum.org