"they were persuaded by the immediacy of suffering"
September 22, 2021 7:46 AM   Subscribe

"Byzantine Empathy" is a novelette by Ken Liu about virtual reality, moral reasoning, atrocities, institutional philanthropy, geopolitics, and two very determined women at odds with each other. Content note: violence, including harm to children.
posted by brainwane (6 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Yes that is very dark.
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 11:46 AM on September 22, 2021

I can’t tell if the naivety is real or feigned, with the claim that “smart contracts” somehow get around needing to understand the legalese.
posted by notoriety public at 12:57 PM on September 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

@notoriety public, the author's capsule bio says
Prior to becoming a full-time writer, Liu worked as a software engineer, corporate lawyer, and litigation consultant.
He certainly talks the talk in a way that mimics the cryptocurrency believers. For my part, the wackiest bit was overlooking that if governments really want to put a crimp in the use of cryptocurrency, they can prohibit trading money for crypto bits. Turning every transaction into a money-laundering exercise would not necessarily eliminate cryptocurrencies, but it would restrict their use to people comfortable with money-laundering. Which would knock the props out from under the story premise.

I didn't read the part you're calling out as "legalese will no longer be a thing," just that "smart contracts need to be restricted to offers where the performance of the parties can be automatically verified." Contra Lessig, code is not law, necessarily, but sometimes could stand in for it.
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 2:14 PM on September 22, 2021

smart contracts need to be restricted to offers where the performance of the parties can be automatically verified.

And how do you verify the smart contract itself does the thing that the other party is claiming that it will do? Once you sign on the cryptographic line, there’s no recourse if the other end was scamming you. Which is, of course, the point.
posted by notoriety public at 3:41 PM on September 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

Contra Lessig, code is not law, necessarily, but sometimes could stand in for it.

It really isn't, ever.

A "smart contract" is just a contract, a text subject to the same laws and rules of interpretation as any other. Writing a contract in code doesn't mean it automatically executes outside of the legal system or the jurisdiction of the courts as this story and so many idiot crypto enthusiasts claim, any more than cryptocurrency is magically exempt from securities or other financial regulations. The history of the Internet has been various groups of people learning over and over that it is not, in fact, another dimension outside of our world.

That Liu is an attorney and seems to think this is disappointing, at least with software engineers you can just chalk it up to pure ignorance and arrogance. Even the basic premise doesn't make any sense: you don't need to understand "legalese" with a smart contract, you just need to know how to write code and use the protocols. So simple! Unlike dumb old Luddite regular contracts that can be easily made by anyone and are enforceable even when merely verbal (except in certain cases) or scrawled on the back of a napkin. Not to mention smart contracts aren't any more self-executing than a paper one. If we execute a smart contract where you buy my boat, that doesn't teleport the boat to you, and if I don't deliver said boat after I receive your payment, you're going to court to enforce the agreement just as you would with ye old paper document.
posted by star gentle uterus at 5:21 PM on September 22, 2021 [3 favorites]

Ken Liu on crypto: I find the mathematics, the algorithms, the history and ideas behind cryptocurrencies beautiful and interesting, and I wanted to tell a story that tries to engage with these ideas in a serious, empathetic way.

Another story of his featuring smart contracts.
posted by bashing rocks together at 12:59 AM on September 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

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