Smart contracts encode business rules in a programmable language onto the blockchain and are enforced by the participants of the network.
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Proponents of smart contracts claim that many kinds of contractual clauses may be made partially or fully self-executing, self-enforcing, or both. The aim with smart contracts is to provide security that is superior to traditional contract law and to reduce other transaction costs associated with contracting.
Smart contracts have been used primarily in association with cryptocurrencies.
The real-world smart contract that gained mainstream coverage was The DAO, a decentralized autonomous organization for venture capital funding, running on Ethereum, which was launched with US$250 million in crowdfunding in May 2016 and was hacked and drained of 3,689,577 ETH three weeks later.