Nick Szabo's Essays, Papers, and Concise Tutorials

I blog at Unenumerated.

Mining the Vasty Deep Most of the earth's surface lies under the seas. Little of that has so far been explored much less tapped. Advanced technology now allows exploration and extraction of a wide variety of raw materials from the ocean depths.
Book Consciousness The printing press and a free market in books altered our minds and civilization at a very deep level, paving the way for world trade and the industrial revolution.
History and the Security of Property Many patterns of history, including not only boundaries and other geostrategic patterns but also political and legal structures, were heavily influenced by requirements for protecting the kinds of property dominant in the society.
Interpreting Power The principle of least authority.
An Explanation of the Kula Ring Patterns I've discussed before (unforgeable costliness, specific cycles, and trust minimization in institution design) explain the unique two-collectible kula cycle.
Emergency Economics Why neither markets nor governments work very well in a disaster.
Origins of the Joint-Stock Company Medeival precursors of the modern public corporation.
The Birth of Insurance How investment and insurance were unbundled, and the astounding results.
A Measure of Sacrifice (On Time) Why were two technologies from two very different crafts traditions -- the mechanical clock and the sandglass -- invented at the same time and place?
Scarce Objects An architecture for usage control (not mere access control) for distributed objects interacting across trust boundaries.
Shelling Out -- The Origins of Money The origins, functions and aesthetic, monetary, and security properties of proto-money.
Origins of the Non-Delegation Doctrine An analysis of the delegation (or lack thereof) of the power to make law from the legislative to the executive branch in the early United States, uncovering some distinctions and factors that may shed light on modern non-delegation cases, and introducing representation distance and the principle of least authority as constitutional doctrines.
I delivered the keynote speech, on smart contracts, at the IEEE International Workshop on Electronic Contracting (WEC), San Diego, California, USA on July 6, 2004. Here are the slides from that talk.

Concise Tutorials

Hermeneutics The interpretation of traditional texts.
An Introduction to Algorithmic Information Theory Here's a mailing list and other additional information on this topic.
Contracts with Bearer How blinded digital cash works, and how it more generally provides a protocol for electronic bearer certificates and protecting scarce online resources.

Recent Essays and Papers

A Formal Language for Analyzing Contracts Useful for financial cryptography, risk analysis, and accounting for the value of derivatives, combinations, and other sophsticated contracts.
Advances In Distributed Security The new paradigm of very highly probable, rather than absolutely certain, security has led to a raft of new possibilities for securing distributed applications. For the first time we can implement on the Internet crucial integrity properties and applications -- including synchronized clocks, unforgeable transactions, and censorship-proof publishing.
Rights, Remedies, and Security Models Legal concepts and terminology can shed light on computer security problems, such as delegation of authority.
Scarce Objects An architecture for usage control (not mere access control) for distributed objects interacting across trust boundaries.
Patterns of Integrity -- Separation of Duties A recurring and reusable pattern for controlling dangerous functions.

Technological Protection of Rights

Formalizing and Securing Relationships on Public Networks Smart contracts -- embedding rules in technology.
A Formal Language for Analyzing Contracts A computer-readable language for drafting rules and analyzing their consequences, and for embedding rules in technology.
Contracts with Bearer How blinded digital cash works, and how it more generally provides a protocol for electronic bearer certificates and protecting scarce online resources.
Secure Property Titles with Owner Authority
Secure agreements on name spaces and other property rights.
Shelling Out -- The Origins of Money The nature and origins of money. Aesthetic, monetary, and security properties of collectibles.
The Playdough Protocols Tamper evident techology and the protection of commerce.
A Measure of Sacrifice (On Time) The hourglass and mechanical clock -- how and why medieval Europe developed a secure system for specifying the time of events.

Security, Fault Tolerance, Computation, Information, Mathematics

The God Protocols Trustworthy computations with minimally trusted parties -- ITAudit Vol. # 2 November 15, 1999
Intrapolynomial Cryptography Spammers may use custom architectures to beat compute-cost postage schemes.
Absolute Compression and True Randomness
Some "real random" numbers may not be very random.
The Abuse of Statistics in Cryptography Misunderstandings about randomness can compromise cipher design.
There is No Universal Security Architecture
The best security architecture depends on the kinds of relationships to be protected.
Distributing Authorities and Verifying Their Claims Trust no one (who writes for "The X-Files").
Trusted Third Parties are Security Holes The role of trust assumptions in secure protocol design.
Coalition Design for Secure Protocols
Recent breakthroughs in reasoning about coalitions and protocols.

History and Theory of Institutions


Clay envelope and tokens, Sumer, c. 3,400 B.C.

Silver ring and coil money, Sumer, c. 2,500 B.C.

Shelling Out The nature and origins of money. The aesthetics and monetary properties of collectibles. The first institutions allowed humans to cooperate more than other animals.
The Playdough Protocols How tamper evident technology led to the first contracts and accounts -- and then the birth of writing and mathematics.
Measuring Value A fundamental problem shaping the history of institutions.
A Measure of Sacrifice (On Time) The hourglass, mechanical clock, and how we have spent most of our days since.
Brehon Law A decentralized, pre-literate legal system with lessons for a multimedia age.
Recovering Privity A pre- and post-industrial concept of knowledge, relationships, and responsibility.
History of Commercial Law Links to resources.

Law and Philosophy

Hermeneutics The study of messages from the past. Recommended by Yahoo! Directory.
Objective versus Intersubjective Truth Tradition, authority, and non-objective truths
Measuring Complexity Some thoughts about complexity, nature, and science.
The Phases of Contracting

E-Commerce and Online Business Processes

The Mental Accounting Barrier to Micropayments Prices don't come for free.
Mental Transaction Costs and Micropayments (Presented at 2nd Berlin Internet Economics Workshop, May 1999)

Privacy Marketing Personalization vs. privacy -- TBTF Nov 3, 1995
Privacy Marketing: followup
The Idea of Smart Contracts A short and gentle introduction.
Video Contracts Capturing the meeting of minds.
Trusted Services and Group Controls Making trusted third parties trustworthy, sort of.
Online Communities: From the Usenet FAQ
Accounting Controls Traditional protocols.
Smart Contracts Glossary
Multinational Small Business
Credit with Privity That nasty lack of simultaneity.

Advanced Distributed Security for Online Commerce

Coalition Design for Secure Protocols How parties that don't trust each other can securely agree on inputs and compute results.
Secure Property Titles with Owner Authority
Secure agreements on name spaces and other property rights
Proplets Architecture for securing and transferring physical property
Formalizing and Securing Relationships on Public Networks
A survey of security for smart contracts -- First Monday, September 1997.
The God Protocols Trustworthy computations with untrusted parties -- ITAudit Vol. # 2 November 15, 1999
Trusted Services and Group Controls Making trusted third parties trustworthy, to some extent, and the tradeoffs involved.
Trusted Third Parties are Security Holes When designing security protocols.
Negative Reputations Blacklisting as security. Introducing Chaumian credentials.
Contracts with Bearer A generalization of digital cash.

Links to Other Work in Smart Contracts

The E Language A nice distributed object language.
Bitcoin contracts

Links to Fault Tolerance and Cryptographic Protocols

Links to Mathematics, Computation, Information, and Statistics


From the Usenet FAQ
Ronald Reagan 1911-2004

My worldview draws heavily from scientific methods, including theoretical applied science.