On March 31 experts in cryptography and law convened in Athens, Greece for Smart Contracts Day. This program featured presentations from experts whose research is directed toward the nature, challenges, and future of smart contracts.
The event was organized by Professor Aggelos Kiayias, chief scientist at IOHK, chair of cybersecurity and privacy at the University of Edinburgh and Associate Professor of Cryptography and Security at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. The conference, the final of the European Research Council project series CODAMODA, was held at Divani Caravel Hotel in central Athens.
Smart contracts, which have come into prominence along with the rise of digital currencies like bitcoin, are a concept at the intersection of cryptography and law. They are a digital legal system supported by blockchain, the same technology that underpins bitcoin. This system relies on highly intricate mathematical checks to ensure impartiality between parties with diverging interests. These virtual “smart contract” agreements show promise for reshaping the future of legal contracts and potentially rendering obsolete some of the services now provided by lawyers.
“To understand the technology, it is useful to contrast cryptography and law. Law regulates interactions between persons ensuring fairness and basic rights. In this way, the law offers protection from other persons with conflicting interests by relying on the rule of law and social institutions.”
Kiayias asserts that cryptography is the science of redistributing trust in any system that emerges from the interaction of multiple persons. It also protects people from others with conflicting interests - a protection he says is achieved by relying on hard mathematical problems.
Continues Kiayias: “A smart contract is a piece of code written in a formal language that records all terms for a certain engagement. It has the power to self-execute when certain conditions are triggered and can enforce its outcomes in a cryptographic sense. There are many smart contract applications, in areas such as intellectual property, financial instruments, and rental and leasing agreements.”
The Smart Contracts conference will include presentations from Charles Hoskinson, IOHK CEO and Co-Founder; Burkard Schafer, Professor of Computational Legal Theory and director of the SCRIPT Centre for IT and IP law at the University of Edinburgh; Peter Van Valkenburgh, Director of Research at Coin Center; and Christoph Sorge, holder of the juris professorship of legal informatics, co-director of the Institute for Law and Informatics, and member of the Center for IT Security, Privacy and Accountability at Saarland University.
“In the near future, this technology will give rise to ‘cryptolegal’ frameworks that, by merging cryptography and law, will be able to regulate interactions of persons at a global scale. In this way, such frameworks will transcend geographic and jurisdictional boundaries and create a dynamic global social institution that belongs to all and can be abused by none.”