- Propose a broad framework for studying ethics in the cryptocurrency and smart contract space.
- Identify 4 major blockchain “realms” that ethics apply to:
(1) Technology stack - ethics related to underlying distributed ledger technology;
(2) Cryptocurrencies - ethics of cryptocurrencies as an alternative to fiat;
(3) Smart contracts - ethics related to the design and implementation of smart contracts and data;
(4) Decentralization - ethics related to the design of decentralized autonomous institutions (DAOs).
- Areas relevant to smart contracts and DONs revolve around data ethics and contractual ethics which are discussed below.
Tang, Y., Xiong, J., Becerril-Arreola, R. and Iyer, L., 2019, June. Blockchain ethics research: a conceptual model. In Proceedings of the 2019 on Computers and People Research Conference (pp. 43-49).
Which blockchain features are most relevant to discussions about ethics? What should discussions about blockchain ethics focus on?
The authors identify established ethics research relevant to smart contracts and DONs: data ethics and contractual ethics.
- Data ethics are relevant to cryptographic protocols such as DECO and Town Crier detailed in the Chainlink 2.0 whitepaper;
- Contractual ethics apply to features of hybrid smart contracts. Each are discussed below and will be fleshed out in greater detail in subsequent posts.
For background terms and definitions, check out this excellent summary of the Chainlink 2.0 whitepaper.
Research on data ethics typically revolves around a framework known as PAPA (Mason, 1986) which stands for Privacy, Accuracy, Property and Accessibility. This framework provides useful heuristics for identifying potential ethical strengths and weaknesses of cryptographic protocols such as DECO, which is discussed in more technical detail in the Chainlink 2.0 whitepaper.
Below is a table with each of the areas of data ethics and a series of critical questions within each area. Using this framework, potentially as an ethics certification “checklist”, we can potentially validate cryptographic protocols as “ethically sound” if they provide sufficient answers to each of critical questions raised (this will be the topic for the next discussion post in the series).
|Privacy||What data must people reveal about themselves to others?|
|Accuracy||Who is responsible for the reliability, authenticity, and accuracy of data? Who is accountable to errors in the data?|
|Property||Who owns the data? Who owns the channels of distribution, and how/should they be regulated? What is the fair price of data that is exchanged?|
|Accessibility||What data does a person or organization have a right to obtain, with what protection, and under what conditions?|
PAPA Framework for Data Ethics partially reposted from the Binus University School of Information Systems which can be used to assess the ethical integrity of cryptographic protocols.
Hybrid smart contracts touch upon two areas of ethics: contractual ethics and data ethics. While data ethics are more relevant to cryptographic protocols like DECO and Town Crier, contractual ethics are more relevant to smart contracts as a broader category of transformational technologies. Because smart contracts are based on automated rules, ethical considerations might appear to be more straightforward.
This is not necessarily the case, however, if we consider the legal implications and social norms surrounding “traditional” vs. smart contracts. While traditional contracts are validated and adjudicated through centralized courts and governments, smart contracts are validated through decentralized peer-to-peer networks and are not only binding in a legal sense but are binding via abstract, automatic processes.
As a result, ethics and fairness considerations relevant to smart contracts will likely come into play in the following ways:
- Consent: were the rules of the smart contract designed in a way to ensure informed consent of both parties?
- Compliance: would the smart contract be legally enforceable in the relevant jurisdictions in which the smart contract was executed?
- Validation: are there aspects of the validation process, or of the validators themselves which could potentially void a smart contract?
These are only a few of the ways in which considerations about ethics and fairness could come into play for smart contracts. A deeper understanding of the fairness and ethics issues in this domain would require exploration of these issues via case studies with real-world examples and applications.
Thinking through some of these issues before they become politicized and/or controversial can help contribute to better smart contract design and to a fairer and more inclusive economic future.
Mason, R.O., 1986. Four ethical issues of the information age. MIS quarterly , pp. 5-12. Link: https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/248873.pdf
Discussion: A data ethics framework for assessing cryptographic algorithms and zero knowledge proofs: PAPA, DECO and Town Crier.