ANU receives US$1m to study blockchain and law technology

Image shows Scott Chamberlain and the College's north wing building
Senior Lecturer Scott Chamberlain has received US$1m to study the legal implications of blockchain and other financial technologies.

There’s a whole lot of things that need research, it’s not just blockchain but legal tech in general. The whole space is a Cambrian explosion of new and wonderful things to sink your teeth into.

The Australian National University has become the first in the country to secure US$1 million to research and create courses around the legal implications for the law profession and governments from the emerging technologies of blockchain, smart contracts, and digital payments.

Scott Chamberlain, a Senior Lecturer in the ANU College of Law, has received the funds from US-based cryptocurrency exchange platform Ripple, as part of its US$50m University Blockchain Research Initiative.

“The internet has exploded the amount of interactions and information we can share with other people, but it didn’t explode trust,” Mr Chamberlain says.

“That leads to all sorts of things like online identify theft and intellectual property infringements.

“Part of what Ripple’s looking at is can blockchain add a value layer to that, so the Internet of Data matches with the Internet of Value.

“For the legal profession, that promises a bunch of potential solutions to an enormous number of problems that people experience.”

ANU College of Law Dean, Professor Sally Wheeler OBE, says the University is at the forefront of studying the legal challenges inherent in the blockchain revolution.

“We’re proud to be both the first Law faculty and the first Australian university involved in this exciting research initiative,” she says.

“The legal implications for these emerging technologies are immense, and we are thrilled that our staff and students will be in the front row of researching what it all means for the legal profession and governments.” 

Mr Chamberlain and his research partners, starting with software developers, will study whether emerging financial technologies can help.

“Booking your Uber is so fantastically seamless and easy, and yet enforcing your legal rights is so difficult and complex,” Mr Chamberlain says.

“I’m looking at what I call the ‘Lex Automagica Tech Stack’ – blockchain, plus digital assets, plus smart contracts, plus AI (Artificial Intelligence), plus AR and VR (Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality – that can power our societies like clockwork.”

“There’s a whole lot of things that need research, it’s not just blockchain but legal tech in general. The whole space is a Cambrian explosion of new and wonderful things to sink your teeth into.”

Mr Chamberlain says the College will also research whether the technology can improve the way people access to justice.

“Everyone talks about access to justice, but this is about scaling justice, and can you mass produce it,” he says.

“We’re looking at that, and that’s why it’s academic research, not corporate research and development.

“It might be that the current model of accessing justice is the best there is. We don’t know yet.”

Mr Chamberlain plans to create two postgraduate Masters courses in first semester 2020, subject to approvals, that examine the technology proposals in theory and practice.

Updated:  10 August 2015/Responsible Officer:  College General Manager, ANU College of Law/Page Contact:  Law Marketing Team