It is cliche to say that we want to change the world. I have spent almost a decade studying, leading, and living societal change in one of the some dynamic environments on earth. One of the many things I have learned along that journey is this: saying one wants to change the world is cliche, and it is also passe.

Real change doesn’t happen by talking. It happens by planning and by doing.

More precisely, to change things, one must start with a working hypothesis, a plan for testing that hypothesis, and finally a plan for scaling that hypothesis beyond the original testing environment. In other words, one must iterate towards a smarter world via data driven interactions, if we are to build resilient systems which actually change the world for the better.

When people ask me what I think the most exciting thing about smart contracts and the other technical parts of what we are building at Eris Industries is, I always come back to their ability to (1) handle complexity and (2) their ability to ease the ideation to implementation cycle. In other words their ability to help us, collectively, work towards a smarter world.

For those of us who think that, to some extent, law as code will be a reality, smart contracts are not only a curiousity but a necessity. But even for those who do not believe that law as code will occur any time soon, they should view smart contracts at least as a curiousity.

There are two reasons why I say this.

Smart Contracts Empower Social Science Research of Complex, Data-Driven Interactions

Smart contracts within a smart contract systems act like cells within an organism and as such can be crafted such that they handle complexity extremely well. Individual smart contracts can be programmed to do one thing and respond to a single actor or can be programmed in more complex manner. As long as the software is correctly designed, smart contracts can handle a great amount of complexity quite well.

This can be a boon for social science research, especially for collaborative social science research. Using smart contracts complex systems can collaboratively be developed over time which model different sets of interactions. These interactions can then be entered into by as many different actors as the social scientists feel are needed to better understand the interaction they are modelling. Using our Thelonious smart contract systems client, researchers can ensure that only researchers who are officially part of the project can add different actors to the research set – all while allowing for a completely transparent and collaborative scientific process.

Smart Contracts Can Ease the Rule Ideation to Rule Implementation

Let us say, just for argument’s sake, that we have reached a point where the Internet of Things and other forces have driven us as humans to collectively implement – to a certain degree – law as code. Let us assume, also, that social scientists are interested in studying a norm which has collectively been reduced to code. Those scientists can simply pull the smart contracts which represent that norm into their smart contract client and run simulations against different actor sets they establish, preferably using a scripting format like we have set up within the Decerver. Perhaps those scientists are able to vet a hypothesis about how the rule could be better derived which would be more responsive to certain criteria, or more reslient, or whatever the end goal was.

The new rule developed by the scientists could then be proposed to a rule formalizing process with some level of human oversight – whatever may be appropriate in the given context – and if it successfully is approved can instantly be put into place in the authoritative smart contract system for that jurisdiction. Instantly, the “things” and “businesses” who may have smart compliance mechanisms which respond to the rule systems dynamically and in real time modify their behavior.

The specifics of the above hypothetical are not important, but what is important, and is important now, is the ease of use and simplicity of using smart contracts to model and study complex interactions.

Beyond Social Science

While the above example may be a bit far off, we are only at the beginning of exploring what smart contracts can do. When we think beyond simple social science into improvement of societal processes, especially in the context of the delivery of public services, smart contracts look increasingly interesting.

Smart contracts are designed to run on a variety of computers, are publicly auditable, and as scripts are not prone to human discretion or error. Often times this is what we want to see in the delivery of public services which so often benefit more from precision than discretion. We often want our public service to be delivered irregardless of what the beneficiary may look like, or how the beneficiary may act. Computers do this type of thing much better than human beings.

Now what I am not saying is that smart contract systems can be responsible for delivering meals to elderly citizens of a community. Smart contracts are, after all, just software. However, smart contracts can be used to verify and manage those citizens who are enrolled in the program and can be linked with death registries and welfare registries to efficiently manage the roll of citizens to make it more efficient for the drones (or, preferably in this context, humans) to perform the deliveries.

In this light smart contract systems can play a role in the management of many governmental functions. The transparency, flexibility, and distributed nature of how smart contract systems work makes them incredibly appealling – at an intellectual level – as the backbone of many public data-driven interactive systems.

Putting The Pieces Together

We have a lot of challenges as a human species. Not the least of which are how we interact with one another, especially in the context of negotiating rule frameworks which make sense and in the delivery and management of public services and public goods. What I love about my job at Eris Industries is that we get to make the tools which we hope will allow developers to begin addressing such challenges in a real and meaningful way.

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