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  • Does the title of your book refer to blockchain oracles or the Oracle of Delphi?
    Both. The story revolves around oracles both ancient and contemporary.
  • What exactly is a blockchain oracle?
    This fireside chat offers a good introduction...
  • Is this your first sci-fi novel?
    No. In 2010, I published Tetraktys, a thriller novel that also involved a blend of technology and antiquity.
  • I know it's fiction, but how real is the tech in your novel?
    Nearly all of the technologies in the book are real in some sense. Several are based on research from my group at Cornell Tech that has percolated into the blockchain industry. If you'd like to learn more about the science behind The Oracle, click here: The premise of The Oracle, a smart contract paying bounties for murder, is pure fiction. But the idea is based on an academic research paper I co-authored. Something of the kind could conceivably happen in the not-too-distant future. So among other things, The Oracle is a cautionary tale: To avoid impending dangers, we need to be careful about the deployment of AI tools on blockchains. The Oracle also explores a natural tension in blockchain systems between openness and controls that constrain criminal activity.
  • How did you come to start writing THE ORACLE?
    I used to walk by a skybridge in Chelsea that struck me as being my dream office. It took root in my imagination. I gave it a name ("The Bridge"), a narrator, and a backstory—and it eventually flowered into a tale of adventure that I couldn't help but write. The Chelsea skybridge is a wonderful symbol of the old (it dates to 1930) and the new (I believe Google now owns it). It doesn't hurt that oracles—in both the ancient and blockchain worlds—are metaphorical bridges.
  • Your main character is a chocolate snob. How much research did you need to do to get that part of the book right?
    A good deal. But it's wasn't terribly painful.
  • I know it's fiction, but how realistic is the book's depiction of the Oracle of Delphi?
    Most of the elements concerning ancient Greece are drawn from historical and scholarly sources. I did use a healthy dose of literary license, however. The death of the Pythia in Chapter 2 is based on an incident recounted by Plutarch, but I embroidered on it and translated it several centuries back in time. The fate of the Omphalos in Chapter 7 is fantasy—but perhaps not totally implausible. Still, a number of the historical incidents in the book are a prime case of truth being stranger than fiction. Cities in the ancient Greek world nearly always consulted the Oracle of Delphi regarding decisions of major importance. That means that this deeply patriarchal society made life-and-death decisions guided by a woman offering up prophecies under the influence of a hallucinogenic gas. You simply can't make such stuff up!
  • What role have you played in developing oracles and other blockchain tech?
    My group at Cornell Tech is best known for its work in a few areas: (1) Oracle design (of course); (2) The use of Trusted Execution Environments (TEEs), a.k.a. trusted hardware, especially in blockchain systems; and (3) "Miner / Maximal Extractable Value" or (MEV)—an ongoing type of financial gaming of smart contracts whose study we initiated. I also co-founded and today co-direct the Initiative for CryptoCurrencies and Contracts (IC3). Finally, I've had a technical role at Chainlink Labs from early on in its history and serve as Chief Scientist there now.
  • What role does AI play in your novel?
    A subtle but important one. AI tools in the oracle system adjudicate murder claims in the Delphian's rogue smart contract. Without them, the contract couldn't function. While AI tools aren't yet deployed in blockchain oracles, there's a good chance they will be in the future. In this sense, The Oracle is a cautionary tale: We need to be careful about the confluence of blockchains and AI. The potential harms of AI tools are already exercising the minds of scientists, ethicists, and politicians. The Oracle asks readers to imagine what might happen if these same AI tools were to power autonomous agents endowed with money. That prospect is probably years away, but now is the time to think about protective measures.
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