the need for tech, law, business and finance

Blockchain will not only require that you get up to speed from the perspective of your discipline but also gain literacy in the peripheral disciplines, says Joshua Ellul, director, Centre for Distributed Ledger Technologies, University of Malta.

If you work in tech, law, business, finance or a related area, blockchain should be on your radar. It is changing and will change many services you use – both related to your professional life, as well as to your personal one. Like other transformative technologies that have emerged it will require you to get up to speed on how it affects your profession – yet, unlike other technologies that preceded it, blockchain will not only require that you get up to speed from the perspective of your discipline but also gain literacy in the peripheral disciplines.

Smart contracts will allow for you to enter into digital agreements that are tamper-proof and automatically execute, guaranteeing your interests – as well as the other parties – as long as the smart contract is correctly programmed. How would you know if the smart contract is correctly protecting your interests? While many tools are being developed to allow for non-programmers to both read and write smart contracts, the smart contract domain is still very focused around software developers. Will everyone be required to become a developer to interact with smart contracts? Most definitely not, but professionals will be required to be smart contract-literate. Tools will undoubtedly continue to be developed to enable for non-programmers to interact with smart contracts in the future – yet, even with such tools literacy to be able to reason about encoded logic will be required. Becoming smart contract-literate will become vital.

At the same time many smart contracts that professionals will be interacting with will not only execute the agreed upon processes but will also operate within larger legal frameworks that may span across different companies and jurisdictions – and while many may not care about the law when things work fine, it is when things cannot be fixed that recourse will be sought through the legal system.

Decentralised Applications (dApps) are built using different components including smart contracts executing on decentralised blockchain platforms and also traditional centralised web components – and wherever centralised components exist, centralised control exists which can be abused or could be applied negligently. The technology is still nascent and many techno-regulatory/legal questions are still to be answered. As a programmer who takes part in a decentralised autonomous organisation (DAO) whose operation resulted in substantial material losses, could you be held liable? As an individual investing in such a DAO and exercising voting rights to steer future directions, are your interests protected legally? While a legal opinion is your best bet, being legally literate will allow you to better explain and discuss such delicate issues with your legal team – while lack of legal understanding could result in suboptimal outcomes due to miscommunication.

While many tout the benefits that decentralised systems can bring including new forms of financial activities, particularly Decentralised Finance (DeFi), Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs) are being developed around the world and are expected to be launched within the next few years. While they are centralised systems, they may provide (for some use-cases) beneficial features or ways to be exploited allowing for new types of financial services to be provided. In this regard, those with financial literacy will be in a better position to develop new types of platforms and services that span across both decentralised and centralised financial systems.

Blockchain, smart contracts, DLT, cryptocurrency, NFT, DeFi and related areas inherently require a multidisciplinary approach, and therefore we developed and run a multidisciplinary Masters in Blockchain and DLT at the University of Malta (within the Centre for DLT). The Masters allows for students to both gain literacy in the various disciplines while specialising in a student’s domain. If you’re interested to learn more visit www.um.edu.mt/dlt.

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