851-0602-00L  Shaping a DCent.Society: Assessing Societal Implications of Bitcoin, Blockchains & Smart Contracts

SemesterSpring Semester 2022
LecturersM. M. Dapp
Periodicityyearly recurring course
Language of instructionEnglish


851-0602-00 VShaping a DCent.Society: Assessing Societal Implications of Bitcoin, Blockchains & Smart Contracts2 hrs
Tue08:15-10:00RZ F 21 »
M. M. Dapp

Catalogue data

AbstractThe course investigates the potential long-term implications of distributed ledger technology on our societies. Students critically reflect the economic, political, ecological, and ethical implications of the Bitcoin cryptocurrency and the Ethereum smart contract engine (incl. DeFi) by exploring connections to disciplines such as economics, political science, psychology, sociology, and philosophy.
ObjectiveCompare the paradigm shift from Web 2.0 to Web 3.0
Distinguish a broad range of Web 3.0 concepts
Hypothesize about economic, political, ecological, and ethical implications of Bitcoin, Ethereum, and decentralized applications
Integrate ethical and governance considerations into the design of cryptoeconomic systems
Justify own opinions about societal implications of decentralizing society
ContentImagine... what if Bitcoin, Ethereum, and related distributed ledger technology will be wildly successful and flourish long-term? Which parts of our economies and societies would they affect? Could we indeed redesign our societies towards more sustainable action, more democratic governance, and more equitable finance by envisioning new ways of organizing, coordinating, and acting collectively? Or is this all make-belief because, after all, the Internet also under-delivered in important aspects of its huge promises? How can we critically reflect on the long-term implications of decentralizing technologies on our societies?
Bitcoin is dividing the world. Due to its erratic price movements, some view Bitcoin as a useless Ponzi scheme at best and a complex, state-interfering “thing” at worst. Others, however herald it as the most important invention since the Internet or the printing press. In any case, the questions raised by Bitcoin are not only of academic interest: Is today’s fiat money system fair? Should people or the state create money? Is global anonymous transfer of digital value a good thing or not? Will Bitcoin supercharge renewable energy or do we need to switch it off to save the planet? Could it even bring peace by preventing states from financing wars or is this a preposterous claim? Ethereum, blockchain technology, smart contracts, and decentralized applications (dApps) seem to be less contentious and have caught the interest of companies and government for their specific technical characteristics. However, where is the evidence that decentralized technology is beneficial inside a hierarchical, “trusted” setting? Will unstoppable dApps empower us or create rigid machines steering our behavior?
So, what to make of this extremely polarized debate and how to come to reasonable own conclusions when imagining the decentralization of society? The course aims to connect the cultural and historical preconditions to the long-term societal implications of Bitcoin, Ethereum, blockchains, smart contracts, and dApps. We will research and critically reflect economic, political, ecological and ethical consequences with the aim to formulate our own opinions about what is currently happening and what might happen in the future.
To achieve this multi-disciplinary goal, we establish a common understanding of the technologies and inner workings of Bitcoin, Ethereum & Co. in the first part. We discuss selected aspects such as open source software, cryptography, cryptoeconomics, incentives, and complex systems. Why and how is Bitcoin a “trustless” system – or is it not? Why is an absolute scarce digital asset a big deal – or is it not? Why and how is Ethereum a “world computer” – or is it not? Why is an unstoppable system of dApps and decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) a big deal – or is it not? For a full picture, we will also examine other developments such as altcoins, Decentralized Finance (DeFi), stablecoins, and Central Bank Digital Currencies.
This introduction will provide the technical background to move to the main part of the course, in which we go into depth on the potential societal implications of Bitcoin, Ethereum & Co. We will be covering various domains such as sound and fair money & its value, free trade & prosperity, incentive design & social behavior, sustainability & energy use, individual sovereignty & state control, democracy & geopolitics. We will thus be exploring connections between information technology and economics, political science, psychology, sociology, and philosophy. Throughout the course, students are regularly invited to debate in small interventions. They will work in teams to build their own critical analysis and arguments about a specific challenge/issue chosen from the course material. They will summarize their conclusions in a brief report and defend them in class in the final part of the course.
Lecture notesLecture slides will be distributed on a weekly basis.
LiteratureAmmous, Saifedean. The Bitcoin Standard: The Decentralized Alternative to Central Banking. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley, 2018.

Antonopoulos, Andreas M. Mastering Bitcoin: Programming the Open Blockchain. 2nd ed. O’Reilly, 2017.

Antonopoulos, Andreas M., and Gavin Wood. Mastering Ethereum: Building Smart Contracts and Dapps. O’reilly Media, 2018.

Dapp, Marcus M., Dirk Helbing, and Stefan Klauser, eds. Finance 4.0 - Towards a Socio-Ecological Finance System: A Participatory Framework to Promote Sustainability. SpringerBriefs in Applied Sciences and Technology. Cham: Springer International Publishing, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-71400-0.

Dapp, Marcus M. “Toward a Sustainable Circular Economy Powered by Community-Based Incentive Systems.” In Business Transformation Through Blockchain, edited by Horst Treiblmaier and Roman Beck. Springer, 2019.
Prerequisites / NoticeFor this ambitious and interactive course, we hope to attract students who are motivated by tackling large societal challenges with new decentralized approaches to human coordination. We think students with an open mind and interest in interdisciplinary aspects of their field of study will benefit most from this course. Programming experience is not strictly required but some basics about computer science may be helpful to see the potential societal implications of this new technology paradigm.
Fostered competenciesFostered competencies
Subject-specific CompetenciesConcepts and Theoriesassessed
Techniques and Technologiesassessed
Method-specific CompetenciesAnalytical Competenciesassessed
Media and Digital Technologiesassessed
Project Managementnot assessed
Social CompetenciesCommunicationassessed
Cooperation and Teamworknot assessed
Customer Orientationassessed
Leadership and Responsibilityassessed
Self-presentation and Social Influence assessed
Sensitivity to Diversityassessed
Negotiationnot assessed
Personal CompetenciesAdaptability and Flexibilityassessed
Creative Thinkingassessed
Critical Thinkingassessed
Integrity and Work Ethicsassessed
Self-awareness and Self-reflection assessed
Self-direction and Self-management assessed

Performance assessment

Performance assessment information (valid until the course unit is held again)
Performance assessment as a semester course
ECTS credits3 credits
ExaminersM. M. Dapp
Typegraded semester performance
Language of examinationEnglish
RepetitionRepetition only possible after re-enrolling for the course unit.

Learning materials

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Places45 at the most
Waiting listuntil 06.03.2022

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