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Can Crowdsourced Jury Trials On The Blockchain Deliver Justice For All?

Coders have grand (and possibly grandiose) ambitions to settle legal disputes on the Internet in a fair and impartial manner.

Can Crowdsourced Jury Trials On The Blockchain Deliver Justice For All?

Icon: T-Kot via Shutterstock

Can the Internet deliver timely, impartial, and reasonably priced justice in a way that traditional justice systems frequently fail to do? A developer from Buenos Aires thinks so.

Federico Ast is working on Crowdjury, a new form of dispute-resolution based on the blockchain—the distributed ledger technology behind Bitcoin. Instead of lawyers, judges, and endless reams of paper, he would simplify legal squabbles to a couple of algorithms, a few expert jurors picked randomly, and some crypto-currency to pay people for their time.

"Living in Argentina, one gets used to a lot of corruption in the justice system," he says. "What's wrong is that it's very old technology. It's like using technology of the newspaper era to solve conflicts of the Internet time."

Ast gives an example of how his system, which is still in its early stages of development, would work. Say you want to build a website and you hire a developer in another country to do it. The developer codes it, but you're not happy with the result, saying it fails to meet the contract requirements. The developer disagrees, saying he's done his job, and now you're stuck in limbo: an unfinished site and no payment made or received.

Using Crowdjury, the two sides put all relevant evidence (contract, emails, website, and so on) into an immutable ledger on the blockchain, giving it a timestamp and making it resistant to tampering by either side. An algorithm then searches automatically (say, via LinkedIn) for people with certain expertise: in this case, they need to know about Javascript, say. The 10-person jury convenes online, reviews the evidence for a set period of time, and votes. The side with the most votes wins, with a pre-arranged settlement delivered automatically when the jury reaches a decision.

Last year, Ast wrote a paper outlining the idea in detail. He's since been accepted to the Singularity University's graduate program, and he hopes to have Crowdjury ready for public use this year.

"In the short term, we think Crowdjury will be used by existing platforms such as eBay or Airbnb. It would be like an insurance for their users. If there's a dispute, the system would solve it for them. In the long term, we think it will be perfect for distributed communities like social networks," Ast says.

Developers working with blockchain technology have more grandiose visions of doing away with legal systems entirely. In a world of self-executing "smart contracts," there's no need for courts and arbitration. The contract "decides" on condition of certain criteria being met. But even blockchain people see a need for some human involvement some of the time. In fact, Vitalik Buterin, inventor of the Ethereum blockchain platform, recently proposed something like Crowdjury on Reddit.

There are a lot of questions Ast has to answer. For example, is the randomness of the algorithm a good thing and who sets the criteria for picking people? Ast assumes that people who know about coding make better decisions in coding disputes, but is this true? It could be that coders simply side with other coders. To get around the danger of bias, Ast hopes a reputation points system will encourage people to decide cases judiciously. We will see. While the Internet can solve many problems, reinventing the international justice system may be hard even for the best coders.

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