Agents, Trust and Contracts

Agents, Trust and Contracts

Paulo Novais (University of Minho, Portugal), Francisco Andrade (University of Minho, Portugal), José Machado (University of Minho, Portugal) and José Neves (University of Minho, Portugal)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-975-0.ch012
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Inter-systemic contracting may be based upon autonomous intelligent behaviour. Autonomy is an important advantage of software agents. Yet, it brings along several issues concerning the legal consideration (e.g. legal personality/attribution) and the legal consequences of software agent’s behaviour. The intervention of software agents in corporate bodies and the consideration of its roles must also be referred. All this intends interactions based on contracts and relations of trust, at an individual, at a community and at a systemic level. In this regard, it does make sense to speak of the relation between good faith and trust in inter-systemic contracting. And at the systemic level there is a need to focus on special protocols intended to enhance trust in electronic commerce. Chapter 12 proposes smart contracts as a way of enhancing trust and of achieving enforcement in electronic contracting.
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Inter-systemic contracting can be distinguished from other means of contracting by the degree of human involvement in the process of contract construction. In every conventional means of contracting, through conventional letters, fax, telex (and even in not so conventional ones, as electronic mail), the human intervention always appears at the beginning of any deal. However, in inter-systemic contractual relations the whole process of communication and contracting is “between applications” or “between agents” without any human intervention.

The party’s computational systems are not only interconnected but are also able to relate among themselves without human intervention. The human beings limit their involvement to organize the computational systems in terms of their necessities of communication and action. Henceforth, the machines will act on their own, concluding contracts on behalf of the parties involved, either in terms of “automatic inter-systemic electronic contracting”, which is classical case of contracting through EDI-Electronic Data Interchange, and “intelligent inter-systemic electronic contracting”, where one has soft bots capable of acting, learning, modifying instructions and taking decisions Allen & Widisson, 1996).

Software agents are computational entities with a rich knowledge component, having sophisticated properties such as planning ability, reactivity, learning capabilities, cooperation, communication and the possibility of argumentation (Jennings & Wooldridge, 1996; Wooldridge, 2002). It is also possible to build logical and computational models having in consideration The Law norms (i.e., legislation, doctrine and jurisprudence). Agent societies may mirror a great variety of human societies, such as commercial societies with emphasis to behavioural patterns, or even more complex ones, with pre-defined roles of engagement, obligations, contractual and specific communication rules. An agent must be able to manage its knowledge, beliefs, desires, intentions, goals and values.

Software agents may be functioned as tools controlled by humans or faced as subjects of electronic commerce, they may be seen as legal objects or as legal subjects (Andrade,, 2007). Yet, in any case, it is important to legally consider their own and autonomous will. Thus, within the last years the vision of autonomous software agents conducting inter-systemic electronic contracts on behalf of their principals in the Internet has gained wide popularity and scientists have published a wide number of papers with possible application scenarios (Guttman, 1998). However, when thinking about these scenarios one needs to keep in mind, that the Internet (as an extension of the real-word) and all its users are affected by real-world regulations. Consequently, SAs that act on behalf of their human owners are subject to real-world regulations as well (Boella, 2008). Neglecting the question of how legal acts by SAs should be interpreted, nevertheless the problem arises that SAs as actors in the Internet need to understand the legal context in which they are acting. Hence when performing legal acts for their principals, SAs need to understand the corresponding human regulations (Dignun, 2001) in order to be able to assess when and under which circumstances a regulation is violated and when not and what punishment might follow. One possible relevant issue is the mere consideration of rules and sanctions, specially when considering the communication platforms and the relations between SAs and platforms. But another important issue, especially when considering the will of the SA in legal relations, has to do with the consideration of legal rules and the possibility that SAs actually know them and adopt certain standards of behavior according to the legal rules. But is it reasonable to expect that SAs behave in accordance with legal rules? (Brazier, 2002)

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