Decentralized Blockchain Courts

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Izabella Kaminska, on a proposal by Vitalik Buterin:


One crypto-institution that would be very useful for a large set of different applications is a mechanism by which a user could ask a question, expressed in the form of English text, and have a decentralized mechanism, perhaps based on schellingcoin, Martin Koppelmann’s ultimate oracle, subjectivocracy (a very similar concept to slock’s DAO splitting) or some other scheme with similar properties determine the answer, and then send a callback and a log to the user who asked the question. To achieve scalability, a multi-stage scheme where only a few randomly selected judges look at each question by default, and are incentivized by the threat of a larger “supreme court” contradicting them, is probably optimal.

Buterin envisages the use cases as follows:

  • Using smart contracts for events that are potentially highly subjective
  • Arbitration in decentralized crowdsourcing and on-demand economy applications
  • Storage or distribution of funds (eg. one use case is a will where you do not want to force the recipient to set up a private key or learn about ethereum unless they actually need to)
  • As an emergency backstop measure to get funds out of a smart contract if they are stuck for a long time

Note that in order to use the decentralized court, you do not have to give it complete power over you or your applications. For the last usecase, for example, you can set up a system where the decentralized court can only be invoked if a contract has not seen any activity in more than three months. So each developer has the freedom to make very fine-grained tradeoffs between where they trust their code and where they want to trust the decentralized court." (