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Artificial Responsibility of Smart Contracts. The Genie in The Bottle?

Denis Goncharenko

The cybersecurity issues appeared to be a hot topic for our editorial this week: from overviewing the facts obtained from a report, to the threat-avoiding ideas thoroughly listed within an article by my colleague Anna ZHYGALINA. This made me search for more: as they say, if you think of a problem, probably someone else does too. Moreover, we have received more comments concerning smart contracts bug reports. “Things couldn't get more gloomy as they appeared by now,” — I tried to be positive and encountered a story by Daniel CANELLIS called “Blockchain doesn’t kill people, but smart contracts can” which also dwells on a vision of possible AI threats by Adam KOLBER, a Brooklyn Law School professor who writes and teaches in the areas of health law, bioethics, criminal law, and neurolaw. The things I read in both stories astonished me for a while, as I understood that we’re about to deal with a genie out of the bottle. We need to be very precise and correct with our wishes, as genies are eager to make them come true, but not the way we initially planned. This made me look back and observe the emerging new technologies and solutions not just from mere numbers and facts. The global picture of possible threats should always be a reminder while arguing about the discoveries in the world of technological ideas.

Artificial responsibility” is still the outcome of a human responsibility

“The real threat will come when our new smart contract “intelligence” starts to interact with the “internet-of-things.” Eventually, it will be set loose on a world of hyper-connected devices, with potential to cause collateral damage,” — while the doom-prophetic opinion of Daniel meets the ideas of possible methods of resistance, collected by Anna, I must refer to the words of Terrill L. FRANTZ, PhD, EdD, an Associate Professor of eBusiness and Cybersecurity Harrisburg University of Science and Technology in Harrisburg, PA. Professor is not keen on my metaphor of a situation in smart contract implementation, as he sees the problems the other way: “I would not use the "russian roulette" term here. Problems are not random. They are caused by people relying on other persons who do not have the knowledge or skill to implement the technology correctly and safely. Security issues of smart-contracts is entirely at the hands of the people creating the contract. If they set it up incorrectly, it is a problem. The distributive nature of blockchain technology provides the safety net necessary for the contract — in practice, the contract can neither be altered, no disappear.”

Well then, imagine DAO, a ‘decentralized autonomous organization’, which appears to be a group of a smart contracts. In his article, Professor Kolber names DAO “a cautionary tale”. Indeed, according to the author, it “had tremendous ‘artificial responsibility’ in that we gave it considerable control that couldn’t be easily revoked or reined in. Not-so-smart contracts in the future may prove even more dangerous: guests at a DAO hotel might be locked out of their rooms; DAO self-driving cars might drive off bridges. Blockchains have great promise. But we should be thoughtful about how we endow machines with artificial responsibility, even when (and perhaps especially when) these machines are not very intelligent.”

So, is the game worth playing, after all?

This question was asked as a follow-up to my “russian-roulette” metaphor for smart contracts situation. Professor Frantz is brief and confident in his opinion: “Play? Yes. Rely upon? No. Of course, it depends who you are and what situation are in. Parties who have established trust, not in a rush to play the game today, and may as well wait until the execution risk wanes. For new exchanges… well, might be worth experimenting. I think that financial institutions will not eventually take up smart-contract in the big way. It is inevitable, over time. The concept has the amazing merit, but there will be implementation pains in these early days.”

So the global picture is the following: even if the ideas seem utopic and perspective, one should considerably test every step, trying not to fall in the void eventually. Meanwhile, I’d like you to watch the entertaining commercial video to depict the hypothetical problems we may face while walking this path. I hope that the measures of precaution will lead our way, and the genie stays where it should always be.

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