Tag Archives: Nick Szabo

Smart Contracts as new laws? Better handle with care

(Sole24Ore) “A contract is an agreement”, this was the mandatory phrase for starting a private law exam test after which we would discuss the conditions for its validity. Today, university memories are coming back as contracts are revised in technological form; indeed they’re called Smart Contracts. This brilliant intuition came from Nick Szabo who proposed them in 1994, even before Bitcoin and the diffusion of the Internet.
Let’s start with the definition:
“Smart Contracts are computer protocols that facilitate, verify, or enforce the negotiation or performance of a contract, or that obviate the need for a contractual clause. Smart contracts aim to provide security superior to traditional contract law and to reduce other transaction costs associated with contracting.”
The words in bold about automatic performance of the clauses is a source of opportunities and risks, questions and doubts. One thing is certain: A Smart Contract isn’t a contract, but only the part related to agreements performance.
Until now, when one of the contracting parties feels the other party didn’t respect a clause of the contract then a third party need to be called in order to settle the conflict. This neutral authority has always been a human one. Now, we rely increasingly on technology to facilitate relationships between humans, even if this could seem an oxymoron. Maths (or should we say cryptography) intends regulating any operation between each one of us, close or far, a known or unknown stakeholder.
How do technology and economy meet at this point?
If a contract represents the formalization of an agreement, how can we make it secure between parties that remotely agree and maybe don’t even know each other? The answer is
Smart Contracts based on Blockchain technology.
The contract then becomes an instructions set. If it can be codified, it can also be “computed”, i.e. if the conditions are satisfied, it ensures that performance is automatic.
It sounds like a futuristic scenario, but in reality the Internet of Things (IoT) includes this form of contracts for new services. All is fine, in the end “equal justice for all”, not only for those who possess the power. Eliminating all excess of human discretion which leads to long and inconclusive civil lawsuits is actually one step forward.
But in which direction?
If we choose the one that leads to no human discretion at all, the risk may be even greater. These systems are fascinating, they open up incredible scenarios, but they also are autonomous and immutable. This isn’t good, machines must remain instruments. They mustn’t have the last word. Otherwise this will be the first step on a slope in which decision power is given to machines. Instead, we would like machines that assist us in the decision-making process. We must leverage them but not be ruled by them. The variability of emotions remains a human factor that we shouldn’t give up.
The third party, not human, to which we entrust the performance of contract can’t always be mathematics. We hope for a coexistence with the practitioners: the new generation lawyer will have to know how to write a Smart Contract, for example translating the clauses into computer code as shown in the figure.
All this to emphasize the fact that Smart Contracts should be used to control the performance, and never to judge. New technologies require for behavioral models to adapt. . We must use them according to their usefulness, without extremisms. We will use these instruments but wisely, because we don’t live in a deterministic world. Not yet.
Author: Massimo Chiriatti, technologist and member of Assob.it

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Satoshi

Nick Szabo (Bitcoin founder Satoshi Nakamoto?) Breaks his Silence with a Tweet

(CryptoCoinsNews) Nick Szabo, the author of bitgold,
the most complete conceptualization of a decentralized currency prior
to bitcoin, the person who coined the term smart contracts in 1993, and
believed by many to be Satoshi himself, published a one line blog post
today which simply contained a link to his twitter account.
 
The last known public communication from Nick Szabo was in November
2013, almost seven months ago, leaving many to wonder whether he would
ever post again. The seven months silence seems to have followed
increasing attention on Nick Szabo after numerous suggestions that he might be Satoshi.
In April 2014, researches from Aston University’s Centre for Forensic
Linguistics claimed that forensic analysis of Bitcoin’s White Paper
suggests that Nick Szabo was the author of the paper.
Nick however has categorically denied
that he is Satoshi and many argue that it is highly unlikely that he is
the author of the white paper. Nick seems to have been focused on
bitgold, writing a blog post about bitgold two months after Satoshi
announced bitcoin.
Furthermore, there are unconfirmed reports that he attended Princeton Bitcoin conference with Gavin Andresen in March 2014 as well as an unconfirmed job post stating that Nick was working with Vaurum on smart contracts.  Neither Vaurum, nor Nick, have yet replied to requests for comments.
Little is currently known about Nick Szabo. There are no known
pictures of him, no verifiable details of his age, location, profession
or education. Previously, in a Wikipedia article, it was claimed that he
was a law professor at George Washington University, but reporters claim
that after contacting the University they found no record of a person
named Nick Szabo ever being a professor at that university, although
there was one record of a person having studied at that university under
that name. The name therefore might be a pseudonym, a pen name.

Nick Szabo Highlights the Dangers of Centralized Currencies

Nick’s latest tweet is a
retweet of a statement by Proton Mail complaining that their PayPal
account had been frozen, blocking access to $275,000 of funds. In a
statement in their blog Proton Mail details what happened:
“When we pressed the PayPal representative on the phone for further
details, he questioned whether ProtonMail is legal and if we have government approval to encrypt emails.”

This highlights the problem with centralized currencies and
intermediaries as emphasized by both Nick Szabo in his blog post and
Satoshi in his announcement on bitcointalk. We need to trust that our
accounts will not be blocked, our funds will not be tampered, our
government will not arbitrarily take funds, or that our banks will not
bankrupt our country as they did in Greece and Cyprus.
With bitcoin, we
need no such trust. There is no authority that can block our private
keys to interact with our public keys, so accessing our wealth and using
it in whatever way we alone see fit.

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Satoshi