Dr. Felix Greve

Computer says no

The dystopian future of smart contracts

Blockchain technology is open source with global reach. To believe this puts it outside the reach of regulation is a momentous misconception which stems from taking the term “Smart Contract” far too literally. Many people take “Code is Law” out of context, and find the idea intriguing. In reality, the future offered by this vision is a dystopia.

It would become irrelevant whether code returns results that contradict applicable local, state, national or international laws. There would be no reason, no argument needed anymore why something is politically and/or socially desirable, not to mention fair and appropriate. Code overrides all, including the individual legal contract that people wanted to express. So even if code does the opposite of what all parties agree upon there is no recourse, whatsoever. This vision of smart contracts is taking Little Britain’s “Computer says no”-sketches to a whole new level of social relevance.

Ironically, when Lawrence Lessig coined the phrase “Code is Law” in 1999, his point was the very opposite of what it is being used for today. During the early years of the Internet, Lessig was confronted with the notion that the Internet must be beyond legal regulation because it spans nations and works across state borders. But just as Lessig concluded, instead of being immune to regulation, the Internet has proven time and again that it provides the perfect infrastructure for the absolute enforcement of regulatory objectives.

The same is true for blockchain as a modern network technology. Just like the Internet, Blockchain has no intent and no “nature.” It does not provide absolute truth, and is not “ungovernable” but rather provides an extremely powerful regulatory tool. This regulatory control is indeed not established by legal norms but by the technological architecture (the code). So Lessigs “Code is Law” holds for Blockchain, as well: It is neither immune to the laws of nature nor against to laws of humankind, after all.

But this vision of a machine world has largely clouded the debate and distracted from the question Vereign believes we should be asking: A perfect regulatory tool to benefit for whose interests? For which nations and companies? For the interest of some individual oligarchs? Or does Blockchain not provide us the opportunity to address some of the shortcomings of the Internet? Can we build an infrastructure that is governed by public interests and legitimised by democratic, public and transparent processes?

There really is no answer in between, a vacuum of power will always be filled.

Consequently, it turns out that Blockchain prototypes Bitcoin and Etherium are already controlled by very few parties that do not answer to anyone, and in some cases are not even known.

Vereign was founded to implement an alternative vision of technology which is verified as public, transparent, accountable and enables self-sovereign and democratic infrastructures. Our solution will bridge the token economy to the traditional world of humans, enabling legal protection and full compliance for the Blockchain future.