Santi Siri asked about “understanding.”  It appears that the issue of collaborative legal codification is solved, but how to scale understanding by non-experts?

The short answer might be that codification allows the inexperienced to follow paths beaten by the more expert crowd.

Here is a longer, layered answer.

Ian Grigg (@iang_fc) has written an excellent piece on smart contracts, blockchains, Ricardian Contracts,  the role of legal, etc.  It is long, with a lot of history, and brings the discussion back to basics of an ideal transacting system.  In a nutshell: Ian Grigg’s Ricardian contracts and digital assets prehistory – an interview by Anthony Lewis of R3.

Ian mentions the link between Ricardian Contracts and CommonAccord in The Sum of All Chains.

The core is two “triples.”

Data Model Triple

The first triple is the data model.  He expresses the order differently, but it is the same as: 1) a record with parameters, 2) some legal prose, and 3) some software code.  We express this as two jumps:

  1. A record has parameters and references its context.
  2. The context includes i) prior step and other materials, ii) prose and iii) code.

Record and Context

The technical reader will notice that the linkage among records is a semantic triple.

Triple Entry

The second triple is Triple Entry bookkeeping – a somewhat confusing phrase IMHO, but simple idea.  To have a good system of record (proof), the minimum viable configuration is for there to be three copies of the transaction.  Mine, yours, and one kept in trusted hands.   Just two copies is not enough because one of us could alter theirs, and make a false claim.  How could an arbiter resolve that argument?  By looking into the eyes of each party?  Eye-gazing can be reduced if there is a third copy in the hands of someone whose reputation is more important to them than their stake in the transaction.

But the additional copy creates a confidentiality and data security problem, and this gets bigger with each additional copy.   So the ideal is one copy for me, one for you and one in a trusted place.  The confidentiality and security problem can be further reduced by writing just the hash of the record to a trusted place.

Generalizing this further, is is something like the number of parties plus 1.  Parties +1  copies.  Parties +a hash.

I find the “triple entry” to be confusing because I understand the “double” in “double entry” bookkeeping to refer to the left-side and right-side of a T account.  It seems that the triple (and therefore double) of Triple Entry refers to the fact that each party keeps a T account, with mirroring entries vis-à-vis the other party’s T account.

There are lots of reasons to want a peer-based transacting system.  As a starter – it would greatly reduce the complexity of managing our affairs, since a peer-based system would be consistent.   It would reduce the cost, since a peer system would necessarily be or become open source.  It would allow a far broader group of contributors to participate in making things better.  It could reduce the concentration of information (and power).  Done well, it could greatly increase data security by eliminating the need to share data broadly.

Europe has not been the home of as many of the internet winners as other areas.  It has, of course, been the home of many of the most impactful technologies, such as the web (Berners-Lee) and Linux (Torvalds).  And many of the ideas and people who built the internet eco-system started someplace and found their their way to Silicon Valley, Seattle, Boston, Austin, etc.

In a piece here, we argue that Europe, perhaps precisely because it has been more a source of ideas, data and customers than an home for hubs, may well lead the P2P transformation.  This will also be part of a transformation of the “business model” of much of the web from a for-profit model to a for-purpose model.  This is an extension of the dynamic of open source.


Added a page for the overall thesis – there should be a Center for Decentralized Law (CDL) or Center for Decentralized Governance (CDG) – or perhaps Center for Governance.  In any event, a not-for-profit, public benefit organization that is the trustee for smart contract materials, including legal code.  Center for Decentralized Governance

10k foot:

  1. Author and manage text as code, not data or “documents”.
  2. Work with source code, not compiled code.  
  3. As “Lists” of key/values.
  4. Which reference other Lists.  (Modularity, versioning, semantic web.)
  5. In a declarative layer on top of other resources.  (Lisp, Python, a database, etc.)  Integrate with graphs.

Legal texts will iterate to become as efficient as stock markets (bazaar, not cathedral) and general purpose, distributed. 

Also good for kids.  Commits as 3-ring binder of all your work, in context, forever.  Shakespeare and the history of physics a few hops away.   

One of the strategies of the Ruby on Rails community is described as “convention vs configuration.”   The idea is that a complex framework can be built in a lot of different ways, and it makes sense to resist the instinct of designers to keep things general.  The designers create convention by picking ONE out the dozens or thousands of ways that a thing could be done. That choice might be a bit wrong and might require correcting, but it accelerates the process and gives people a target to work with or contest. It has been one of the reasons for the great success of RoR.

Word processing as a vehicle for legal docs can be seen as the ultimate in configuration.  One is free to change any character, any order, any format.  In fact is should be called character processing.

As a reader, one is endlessly reprocessing old ideas in new configurations.  

Modularity provides us with a way to use convention as the default and configure only as needed.  

Odd that agreements, which are known in French as “conventions,” so often are done by configuration.

Some claim that one can “find” “a” meaning in a text. I usually find that I’m bombarded with possible meanings. The claim is that by carefully parsing words one will arrive at the one true meaning.  And that meaning “is” or “is as if we got to” the meaning “intended” by the writers. They got to or started from that meaning.

This claim is made in a number of contexts, notably in connection with interpreting the language of a contract or constitution. 

That seems off of the mark.  When I write, the words never seem right, and when I read, good writing seems like a good tour guide — the words keep me looking in the right direction.

When I learned my second and third languages, it was viscerally reinforced that words aren’t the same thing as thought.  You need to move the English out of the way to let the French or German words present themselves so that they can be arranged into a construction that fits the rules and will point another person in the right direction.

But, it might be argued, even if the words come after the thought, maybe they still subsume it.  How can you talk about a thought except in words?  Aren’t the thought and its words consubstantial, at least practically speaking?  Speaking of which, translation provides a nice example that pushes back on this notion.  

The multiple versions of a legal text, for instance the clause that accords the power to arbitrate disputes to the ICC, can be written in different languages.  Do these mean the same thing?  Did the authors “intend” that they mean the same thing?  Does their “intent” bridge the nuances of language! What is “intent” in the various languages. Do we parse each in its own direction or think of them as having a collective intent?