Ethereum: Freenet or Skynet ?
Primavera De Filippi, Berkman Center Fellow
April 15, 2014 at 12:30pm ET
Berkman Center for Internet & Society, 23 Everett St, 2nd Floor
Ethereum is a contract validating and enforcing system based on a distributed public ledger (or blockchain) such as the one implemented by the Bitcoin cryptocurrency. Yet, Ethereum also features an internal Turing-complete scripting language that can be used to encode advanced transaction types directly into the blockchain. This allows for the deployment of self-enforcing smart contracts (such as joint savings accounts, financial exchange markets, or even trust funds) as well as distributed autonomous organizations (DAOs) that subsist independently of any moral or legal entity. These algorithmical entities are both autonomous and self-sufficient: they charge users from the services they provide so as to pay others for the resources they need (e.g. bandwidth, cpu). Thus, once they have been created and deployed onto the blockchain, they no longer need (nor heed) their creators.
But if DAOs are independently operated — neither owned nor controlled by any given entity — who is actually in charge, responsible for, or accountable for their operations? And if their resources cannot be seized (because DAOs have full sovereignty over them), how can they be required to pay damages for their torts? This talk will analyse the interplay between distributed autonomous organizations and the law, with a view to explore the dangers and opportunities of Ethereum: could this new platform promote the establishment of an entirely decentralized society, or will its disruptive potential eventually be absorbed by the established system?
Primavera De Filippi is a postdoctoral researcher at the CERSA / CNRS / Université Paris II (Panthéon-Assas). She is currently a research fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School, where she is analyzing the challenges raised by distributed architectures and multimedia applications in the context of cloud computing and peer-to-peer networks.