Trust is what enables the cooperation of strangers in face of risks, contingencies, and potential harm. We are going through a global crisis of trust due to globalization and digitization. On the one hand, digital technologies contribute to this crisis through their destabilizing and disruptive effects. On the other hand, they offer new ways to produce trust. In either case, digital technologies permeate and transform almost every space where trust may emerge, is produced, and used. This creates new, often unknown types of risks and contingencies, which also require trust to be overcome.
We are entering an era where trust is technologically mediated, yet what little we know about the trustworthiness of trust mediating technologies gives us no reason to trust them.
We need trust technologies we can have confidence in. To achieve that goal, we need to understand the limitations of using purely technological ways of producing trust, and upgrade or change our existing institutional logics of trust production and distrust mitigation to incorporate technological trust mediators.
This talk outlines the current crisis of trust, the challenges technological modes of trust production generate, the nature of the institutional change, and the policies which can produce trustworthy technological trust mediators.
As a research scientist,
you’ll be working on the social and institutional aspects of trust in
and by technological systems. Multiple technologies emerged to produce
trust (such as global reputation systems, (self-sovereign) identity
systems), or minimize the need for trust (DLTs). Trust, as produced by
technical systems has many possible sources: strong cryptography,
censorship resistance through decentralization, good governance, or
legal legibility, certainty and compliance. Some of these trust sources,
like technology governance and regulation, can complement each other.
Others, such as compliance and decentralization, seem to be in
contradiction. As a social scientist, you will be working with legal
scholars on answering the following two questions at the intersection of
trust and technology:
How do (decentralized) technologies produce trust or minimize the need for trust?
What makes these systems trustworthy?
You will answer these questions by studying various aspects of trust and trustworthiness in technological contexts.
In particular you will:
conduct empirical research among technology developers on the trustworthiness of technology:
design and implement surveys, and conduct qualitative analysis on
how technology developers see the trustworthiness of technology they
build and operate, and how they implement and balance different sources
of trust in technological systems (system design, governance, legal
conduct empirical research among technology users on the topic of trust:
design and implement surveys among users of blockchain based systems on the issue of trust and trustworthiness;
conduct a qualitative analysis of the discourses around trust and DLTs;
work on the problem of institutional embeddedness of decentralized technical systems:
conduct empirical research on how existing societal stakeholders
(such as businesses, the media, various professional groups, regulators,
policymakers) see the trustworthiness of decentralized technologies,
and their ability to produce trust;
Researchers at the IViR Sovereignty4Europe
project are exploring the principles of an ‘Internet-of-Trust’. The aim
is to design a system that securely stores varied transactions in a
blockchain. IViR is conducting the project in collaboration with
researchers from TU Delft, Erasmus University Rotterdam and other
partners. The 3.3-million euro project was funded through contributions
from NWO, RvIG, Holland High Tech, Topsector HTSM, and Delft Blockchain
Lab TU Delft.
Project leader Johan Pouwelse (TU
Delft): ‘Internet behemoths like Amazon, eBay, Google essentially sell
trust: we use Amazon and eBay as trusted intermediaries, and visit
Google to find relevant websites. These giant companies then store our
personal data on their own individual servers. We aim to replace these
US-dominated central servers with a general, non-profit and open source
alternative that can serve as the basis for a reliable blockchain
economy. A scalable and reliable way of maintaining trust and reputation
in an open environment, with no need for a central authority.’
The project should
culminate in the design of an internet-based system capable of reliably
storing a wide range of transactions in a blockchain, in line with
European legislation. This will make individuals uniquely identifiable
and allow researchers to ascertain levels of trust from previous
transactions. The Internet-of-Trust infrastructure is currently
being evaluated in an online community made up of 50,000 internet
users. The legal aspects of this blockchain economy are being evaluated
on the basis of national and European privacy laws.
The project is being headed by Balázs Bodó, the founder of the ERC-funded Blockchain and Society Policy Research Lab.Bodó:
‘The legal team is assessing how new, technological forms of trust
building can work with rather than against the legal system’s current
trust building instruments such as regulation, law enforcement and the
Collaboration with National Office for Identity Data (RvIG)
In addition to the three universities, the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations’ National Office for Identity Data (RvIG)
is also actively participating in the project. RvIG aims to contribute
to an open, universally accessible ecosystem that meets both social
(privacy and security) and economic needs. Amongst other benefits, the
new system should help strengthen trust in digital transactions, reduce
costs and promote the development of alternative forms of service
provision such as an electronic ID card.
The project should also
yield insights at a European administrative level. The European
Commission (EC) has asserted that blockchain technology allows for new
distributed and interaction models that are based on direct peer-to-peer information
exchange and do not require any central platforms or intermediaries,
and is currently assessing the feasibility of an EU Blockchain Infrastructure (EuroChain). Sovereignty4Europe seamlessly reflects these European ambitions.
Together with TU Delft’s Blockchain Lab, Erasmus University, the Dutch Ministry of Interior, and others, we will be working on trustworthy blockchain applications in the next 4 years, due to a generous, 1.5M Eur NWO grant, and a similar amount of private contribution.
Alexandra and Valeria participated at Gikii 2019 organised at Queen Mary University of London on 9-10 September 2019.
Valeria focused on the issues raised by Libra’s promise to create a decentralized and permissionless financial ecosystem open to anyone. Alexandra addressed the dystopic future of having a decentralized and portable digital identity standard provided by Facebook.
Smart contracts are coded parameters written into an immutable distributed ledger called a blockchain. There has been increasing legal interest in the application of these self-executing programs to conduct transactions. Most of the scholarly and practical analysis so far has been taken the claims of this technology being akin to a contract at face value, with legal analysis of contract formation, performance, and enforcement at the forefront of the debate. This article discusses that while smart contracts may pose some interesting legal questions, most of these are irrelevant, and smart contracts should be understood almost strictly from a technical perspective, and that any legal response is entirely dependent on the technical capabilities of the smart contract. The article proposes that smart contracts are not contracts for all practical purposes.
Dr Andres Guadamuz is a Senior Lecturer in Intellectual Property Law at the University of Sussex and the Editor in Chief of the Journal of World Intellectual Property. His main research areas are on digital copyright, open licensing, software protection, cryptocurrencies, blockchains, and complexity. Andres has published two books, the most recent one of which is “Networks, Complexity and Internet Regulation”, and he regularly blogs at Technollama.co.uk. He has acted as an international consultant for the World Intellectual Property Organization, and since 2005, he has been involved with Creative Commons Scotland (while lecturer at University of Edinburgh and Associate Director of the SCRIPT Centre), Costa Rica and now the UK.