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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - International Dispute Resolution

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin | Faculty of Law | International Dispute Resolution | Events | 2019/2020 academic year | Silke Noa Elrifai on Blockchain and Arbitration, 1 November 2019

Silke Noa Elrifai on Blockchain and Arbitration, 1 November 2019


The students of the IDR LL.M., already having familiarised themselves with the basics of international arbitration, called for a new perspective into their thought. The advent of technology in all professions is not new, and to deliver a lecture on blockchain technology and arbitration, Ms Silke Noa Elrifai, a transnational lawyer and mathematician working as a Counsel at both Gnosis and Amereller was brought in. That her lecture had the attention of the class was evinced by the fact that one of the students after the lecture exclaimed: “So, doesn’t this mean that all this is a threat to our profession?”

The lecture started with an introduction to the basic concepts of "blockchain technology", delving into peer to peer networks, game theory and decentralisation. Many of the students already familiar with the concepts, pointed out the “Achilles heel” of the technology, followed by relevant questions with regard to the limitations of blockchain technology in terms of scalability. However, Ms Elrifai also did not neglect the students to whom the concepts in question were entirely new and, for this purpose, referred to the foundations of the topic throughout the lecture. 

Following the introduction to the relevant concepts, the students were asked to present their opinion on how the technology will affect and/or change dispute resolution. Some of the findings, such as the eradication of the need to procure evidence, self-executing smart contracts, generic disputes being resolved by AI-induced systems and machine learning, as well as the foreseeable decreasing need for lawyers in the near future, caused excitement and anxiety at the same time. 

Thereafter, it was time for the elephant in the room, namely on-chain arbitration.

The lecturer delved into the execution of smart contracts and their autonomous nature, which could be adjusted by the intervention of third-party decentralised data feed services called Oracles. The need to build Oracles was further explained by highlighting how they would allow real-time adjustments to smart contracts while bypassing all lengthy and time-consuming due diligence. Where contractual obligations could not have been easily coded into the smart contracts concerned, assigning human Oracles in order to support dispute resolution was established as more than a suggestive premise. 

The potential changes to the arbitration procedures was presented as a challenge for lawyers who now might have to consider learning how to write code. The topic of the scope of legal interpretation of code was touched upon enough so as give the students some food for thought.

While advocating the technological innovations that are set to change the realm of arbitration adversely, Ms Elrifai also took the time to consider the opposing views the students expressed. She discussed in detail the challenges of implementing blockchain technology with its current infrastructure and understanding of it, along with a close reference to Jerry Brito's thoughts in his article "The Case for Electronic Cash", which lays down the importance of electronic cash, as opposed to cryptocurrency, as a tool for individual privacy and autonomy.

The lecture was coming to its end, when Ms Elrifai shared a comprehensive reading list and sources of information in addition to agreeing to take more questions from the class. 

The interactive and informative lecture had intrigued the IDR LL.M. students so much so that they gathered around Ms Elrifai with even more questions and ideas after the lecture. It is my firm belief that thought-provoking lectures like “Blockchain and Arbitration” delivered by Ms Elrifai are what make the experience of studying at an iconic institution like Humboldt University of Berlin a memorable one.


Argha Kumar Jena, IDR LL.M. Candidate