UCL Computer Science


Computable Contracts

Computable Contracts aim to transform the activity of commercial contracting

Whereas contracts are currently static documents that are often disconnected from other business activities, in the future they will be more interactive and integrated expressions of the intentions of the parties that are understandable by computers as well as by humans, and that have significantly greater levels of digital connectivity.

This will provide significant improvements in operational efficiency and pave the way for new business models.

Computable contracts will benefit from extensive scientific and technological support during drafting, negotiation, delivery, execution and performance.

Examples include the use of interactive drafting tools, formal methods, domain-specific languages, advanced analytics, verification & validation tools, distributed ledgers and blockchains.

Achieving this vision will require a number of substantial research challenges to be addressed.

We have identified four key areas:

A. Legal Design for Contracts

This concerns all aspects that directly impact a lawyer, including both the study of traditional natural-language contracts and the study of contracts drafted in a more standardised manner.  The latter also envisages the possibility of contracts that might be partially or entirely expressed in some form of formal specification or programming language.

B. Formal Representation and Verification of Contracts

This covers the underlying science and logic concerning the structure and semantics of contracts, the development of formal analytical tools and formal verification and validation techniques.  Developments in this area include translation from the high-level representations used in (A) to more formal representations (perhaps using formal logics or languages) and interaction with (A) in terms of reporting the results of analysis to lawyers. Further translation from higher-level representations to lower-level representations will interact with (C) in terms of further technological support for workflow automation such as negotiation, execution, contract performance and contract management.

C. Broader Ecosystem: Impact and Considerations

This concerns research into issues of broader commercial economic and societal relevance, such as the way in which new contracting technology might alter the way in which firms do business and the size distribution of commercial entities.  This also includes implications for the legal profession and law.

D. Contracting Technology Platforms

This captures a large area of research into novel technologies for automating many aspects of contracting and broader applications of those technologies such as in regulation and compliance.  This includes the use of both centralised and distributed ledgers, both of which may use blockchains, and automated decision-making and machine-learning technologies.

Knowledge map

Computable Contracts benefit from a broad range of research underway both at UCL and worldwide. Our map of knowledge and capabilities and knowledge aims to inform researchers and strengthen the research community by identifying relevant researchers, projects and publications in academia, commerce and the professions.

This is a working document that will improve as we receive feedback about omissions and errors - please do send an email to clack@cs.ucl.ac.uk or john@innovationpartners.co.uk to give feedback.

UCL Researchers

UCL staff whose research interests are relevant to Computable Contracts are listed below in alphabetical order:

  1. Tomaso Aste, Department of Computer Science, link
  2. Earl Barr, Department of Computer Science, link
  3. Richard Breheny, Department of Linguistics, link
  4. Christopher D. Clack, Department of Computer Science, link
  5. Anna Donovan, Faculty of Laws, link
  6. Antonio Guarino, Department of Economics, link
  7. Jelena Madir, Faculty of Laws, link
  8. Bert de Reyk, School of Management, link
  9. Philip Treleaven, Department of Computer Science, link