CSIRO to build Australian National Blockchain legal smart contract platform

Posted: 29 August 2018 6:58 pm
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It's a major development even in a year filled with blockchain moves across Australia.

CSIRO's Data61 has formed a consortium with IBM and law firm Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) to build the Australian National Blockchain (ANB), a large scale cross-industry platform for legal smart contracts, intended to give Australian businesses an environment for seamless and largely automated cooperation in both permissioned and transparent circles.

The ANB is intended to go far beyond just being a place to lodge digital signatures on digital agreements and will instead focus on holistic management of the entire life cycle of a contract across the term of the agreement, with the ability to let organisations trigger business processes and events through smart contracts.

ANB will be able to speak to external devices, allowing clauses to self-execute. One example is a system that can record the time and date of a delivery based on GPS trackers attached to a delivery vehicle or sensors at the delivery site, and then automatically make payments for the delivery. Another example is automatic no-third-party-needed escrow services, and just about anything else that can be designed and programmed.

The new platform has the potential to represent a significant new piece of infrastructure in Australia's digital economy, CSIRO says, and if it proves successful, the intention is to roll out the technology to markets beyond Australia.

One of the ANB's key differences might be that it will be made publicly available to businesses of all kinds across Australia, and that it's specifically designed for Australian legal compliance. Questions around what exactly a smart contract needs in order to be legally binding as well as around follow-on contracts, ownership of malfunctions and what exactly it takes to mash smart contract theoreticals into a functional real-world form are still being answered at different paces in different places, but this CSIRO/IBM/HSF consortium might make it much easier and quicker for Australia to get its answers.

The International Standards Organisation (ISO) is also working on answering these questions, but no one really has enough time to wait for global standards without missing out on a lot of valuable innovation opportunities.

"Technologies like blockchain are set to transform the legal industry and the wider business landscape as we know it," said Natasha Blycha, Herbert Smith Freehills' blockchain and smart legal contract lead. "This presents a huge opportunity for agile and forward-thinking firms and has potential to deliver significant benefits to our clients and the business community as a whole. Our clients are enthusiastic about process automation, and how it can support a move away from paper-based systems, simplify supply chains and quickly and securely share information with customers and regulators."

The initial pilot will be built on the Hyperledger-based IBM Blockchain and is due to start before the end of the year, during which regulators, banks, law firms and other Australian businesses will be invited to give it a try and offer feedback.

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"Blockchain will be to transactions what the internet was to communication – what starts as a tool for sharing information becomes transformational once adoption is widespread. The ANB could be that inflection point for commercial blockchain, spurring innovation and economic development throughout Australia," said Paul Hutchison, IBM Global Business Services Vice President and Partner of Cognitive Process Transformation – and the holder of a really great job title.

"Our reports identified distributed ledger technology as a significant opportunity for Australia to create productivity benefits and drive local innovation," says Dr Mark Staples, Data61 senior research scientist. "Data61's independence and world-leading expertise will help to catalyse the creation of digital infrastructure for Australian businesses to transition to a digitally-enabled future. For complex enterprise contracts, there are huge opportunities to benefit from our research into blockchain architecture and into computational law. Smart contracts have many applications, and as the ANB progresses we look forward to exploring other business use cases to roll out."

Even in a year to date filled with big league blockchain adoption around Australia, ANB might be one of the most significant developments.

Disclosure: At the time of writing, the author holds ETH, IOTA, ICX, VET, XLM, BTC and ADA.

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