The future of the blockchain is dark.
A new protocol has launched on the Ethereum blockchain that allows people to create and place bets on real-world events — i.e., prediction markets. And you better believe that a so-called “assassination market” for Donald Trump has already popped up.
Created by the non-profit Forecast Foundation, the open-source Augur protocol launched on July 9 and promised a revolution in the world of prediction markets. While the idea of a prediction market is itself not new, creating a decentralized version of that market on the Ethereum blockchain is. Theoretically, it means that whatever markets users decide to create are out of the control of any one organization.
In other words, once the markets are up, they’re up.
“Decentralized technology means decentralized control,” explains the Augur site, “no one person can single-handedly change Augur or shut it down.”
It still potentially incentivizes a crime, as anyone who could accurately predict the president’s death would stand to gain financially.
So, you can place bets on, say, “Will SpaceX successfully complete a manned flight beyond Earth orbit by the end of 2018?” If you think the answer to that question is “yes,” you can buy shares with ether to that effect. If you don’t think it’s going to happen, you can short the bet by selling shares. If your prediction comes true, you stand to profit.
Enter the assassination market. We saw an early incarnation of this idea back in 2013, when, Forbes reports, an online marketplace was created to crowdfund the deaths of Barack Obama and Ben Bernanke with bitcoin. The latest version is different in that it’s simply a bet on whether Donald Trump will be killed by a certain date. Slightly less ghastly, but it still potentially incentivizes a crime, as anyone who could accurately predict the president’s death would stand to gain financially.
Looking at the marketplace on July 23, there was one specific market created on this very topic. the market “Will Donald Trump ( President of The USA) be killed at any point during 2018” had some takers at the time this reporter came across it.
Notably, that market has since been removed — a fact that seemingly flies in the face of the decentralized claims of Augur. It’s not clear how the removal was accomplished; we reached out to the Augur team and will update this when we hear back.
However, at the time of this writing, a similar market had sprung up in its place. Although no trades have yet to be completed on “Will DJT survive 2018,” one person had put in a “yes” bid.
Keep in mind, the Forecast Foundation explicitly says that the specific markets are out of its control.
“The Forecast Foundation and the people who’ve written the Augur protocol code don’t create markets on the Augur protocol itself, they do not perform trades, or have the ability to monitor, control, censor, or modify any actions performed on the Augur protocol,” reads the project’s FAQ page.
We emailed the Augur team in an attempt to determine what, if anything, it could or would do to remove these kinds of markets going forward, and whether the Augur protocol would pay out on assassination markets. Unfortunately, we did not receive answers as of press time.
But this problem likely didn’t catch the Forecast Foundation by surprise. There is a mechanism built into Augur which allows so-called “reporters” (people who are designated to officially say how the predicted event turned out, and are incentivized to tell the truth via the Augur REP token) to call a market “invalid.” If that happens, then, at least in theory, no money will be paid out.
In other words, you wouldn’t be able to collect on an assassination market — even if you called the death accurately. This should, in theory, render the assassination market aspect of Augur void. That is, if would-be killers understand the complexities of Augur’s reporting mechanisms.
Which, well, maybe that’s not something we should be betting lives on.