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Blockchain oracles are the future of smart contracts.
Basic contracts inside blockhains do not rely on data outside their own network. The latest smart contracts use a limited set of third parties, called oracles, to act as a trusted agent to verify transactions related to a given contract. When you hit a contract milestone, you send a message to the oracles. The oracles verify and process the event, and then send funds to the designated address.
It's also possible for the oracles themselves to initiate the event to the contract. For example, the oracle can send weather or currency data.
Note that not every node in a typical blockchain will likely see the event. Only the trusted oracles.
The contract can rely on external or private information, or even proprietary APIs in order to approve the contract event/transaction.