Sunday, March 08, 2015

Blockchain Thinkers and Smart Contracts to take over the World?

Automatically-executing smart contracts and their impact on society has been contemplated in many different contemporary science fiction works like Daemon (Suarez), and Accelerando and Glasshouse (Stross). The interesting point is that artificial autonomous agents are becoming increasingly full-fledged participants in the real-life contemporary world. There are many forms of artificial intelligence in development, and also the advent of new kinds of information technology like blockchains.

Blockchains could be an explosive operational venue for new kinds of autonomous agents like distributed autonomous corporations (DACs), a long-envisioned concept in computing and science fiction. Blockchains are a universal permanent public transaction ledger where smart contracts can be encoded to conduct certain activities in the future. For example, a smart contract could be used to specify a bet between two parties about the maximum temperature tomorrow. The smart contract, itself being online, will automatically check the temperature tomorrow per a pre-specified information oracle (like an Internet-based weather site) and pay out the proceeds to the winning party. Similarly, more complicated arrangements like mortgages (with interest rate resets) and wills (payout per a person’s death) could be encoded in smart contracts.

Far more complicated smart contracts could also be specified, for example for DACs where all corporate documents are encoded to blockchains. This would include the operating charter, governance rules, financial statements, client contracts, licenses, and other documents for orchestrating all manner of corporate conduct. A DAC would engage in the full suite of activities conducted by any physical-world corporation, except that all operations would be triggered to execute automatically per blockchain-based smart contracts. Since all of the DAC’s activities are blockchain-registered transactions, its operations are transparent and publically-inspectable on demand at any moment. Other advanced entities could include Blockchain Thinkers and fully-autonomous Blockchain AIs.

Smart-contract entities are a new concept that is not presently part of everyday human life, but is contemplated in science fiction works such as Daemon (Suarez), Accelerando and Glasshouse (Stross), and the Golden Age trilogy and Hermetic Millennia (John C. Wright). These narratives provide various portrayals of what life might be like with humans and autonomous corporations living in coexistence. On one hand, there are many potential efficiency and transparency benefits that facilitate societal interaction as agent motives and activities can be observed more closely and constitute a truer measure of reputation. On the other hand, DACs are a monolithic code entity that may execute unstoppably despite changing world conditions. Code has always been law (inexorably-executing), but the context for human interaction with such code has been more limited. In the current connected world, humans may be increasingly living side-by-side with different gradations of code-based sentient entities such as personalized robots, artificial companions, Internet-of-Things smarthome networks, self-driving connected cars, and Blockchain Thinkers.

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