Comit / MAST

Experiments in trust. accountability. social coordination.

In search of pareto optimal paths

Odysseus: Hanging out with some sirens. And a mast.
Odysseus: Hanging out with some sirens. And a mast.


MAST: An Accountability Game

Rule 1: Make provable public commitments.

Rule 2: Track compliance. Anyone can compare commitments to the proof and report a fail.

Rule 3: I pay a bounty if they don't happen.

Rule 4: Bonus - Watch out for easter eggs! There are prizes hidden in the proof matrix.

(Above text needs to be edited to add something like, "provable public commitments are linked to escrow-backed, independently triggered commitments." It's a bit confusing because it's basically one type of commitment linked to another type of commitment. Which requires some distinction between the two types of commitments. Type 1 Commitments are promises that are (i) provable, (ii) public, (iii) dependent on performance. Type 2 Commitments are (autonomously?) triggered in the event of non-performance.)

MAST: Mutual Accountability System? Mass Accountability Systems...

Playing with provable public escrow-backed formal commitments to better align action + belief

Provable: Livestream or it didn't happen (mostly. lol)

Public: Full transparency on commitments, proof and, if failure, payment

Escrow-backed: Each commitment backed by $$$.

Commitments: Formally defined commitments

Similar to Ulysses Contracts: “a freely made decision that is designed and intended to bind oneself in the future”

Things humans do

  1. Imagine possible futures
  2. Rank possible futures according to preferences (personal + global)
  3. Assign probabilities to futures (some interplay between 2 & 3)
  4. Decide on a route (intermediate & long run goals)
  5. Traveling the path: Making it real.

We are focused on #5: making it real with provable public escrow-backed formal commitments. A social Skinner box.

Future Work

  1. Expand range of provable commitments
  2. A social commitment game where players can link conditional commitments. Like this: (video won't properly embed, but link works)

  1. Connection with Ethography: Following through on our commitments is only good to the extent that are commitments are good. Ethography is meant to provide one framework to help each us, for ourselves, determine what is "good". If we can (i) consistently align our commitments with our considered understanding of "good" and (ii) consistently follow through on our commitments, then we have unlocked a new world.

learning to steer spaceship earth (by learning to steer ourselves)

  • Escalation of Commitment: Interesting term, but it has historically been used to capture the idea of staying wedded to a course of action/goal, even after it’s become obvious that it’s the wrong course / irrational.
  • Commitment Ramps: A way of stepping up the cost of non-compliance through time. Week 1 failure = $1. Week 2 fail = $10. Week 3 fail = $100. Week 4 fail = $1,000. etc...

Other Notes

Commit may provide a starting point for building Qarmiq, a foundational app/service on which to build the entire project.

Three conceptual approaches to understanding Commit:

(i) a habit tracking app combined with some rewards mechanism(s) - a way to set goals, track behavior and distribute rewards/exact punishments based on performance,

(ii) a digital skinner box,

(iii) a universal contracting platform.

Commit as Universal Contracting Platform

Conceptually a contract consists of (i) an offer and (ii) acceptance* of the offer. Within this context Commit can be seen as a system that allows users to post offers and for those offers to be accepted. Anyone can post an offer.

Anyone can accept an offer - including the person who created the offer (in this instance they're making a commitment with themselves).

Beyond offer and acceptance we can add two additional elements: (iii) enforcement, (iv) consideration.

(iii) Enforcement: Some mechanism(s) for enforcing the contract

(iv) Consideration: Attachment of some value/action to the contract (performance/non-performance results in some cost/benefit)

  • In this definition acceptance assumes mutuality - a meeting of the minds where all parties to the contract understand the substance and terms of the contract.

Commit as Digital Skinner Box

The Skinner Box, also known as an operant conditioning chamber, was created by behavioral psychologist BF Skinner. The core idea is to create an environment where (i) an animal/agent can be placed, (ii) some stimuli may be introduced, (iii) behavior can be monitored (specifically response to stimuli) and (iv) rewards and/or punishments can be delivered (based on behavior) all in service of (v) training/conditioning the animal/agent to behave in specific ways under specific conditions.

From Wikipedia: "An operant conditioning chamber permits experimenters to study behavior conditioning (training) by teaching a subject animal to perform certain actions (like pressing a lever) in response to specific stimuli, such as a light or sound signal. When the subject correctly performs the behavior, the chamber mechanism delivers food or other reward. In some cases, the mechanism delivers a punishment for incorrect or missing responses. For instance, to test how operant conditioning works for certain invertebrates, such as fruit flies, psychologists use a device known as a "heat box". Essentially this takes up the same form as the Skinner box, but the box is composed of two sides: one side that can undergo temperature change and the other that does not. As soon as the invertebrate crosses over to the side that can undergo a temperature change, the area is heated up. Eventually, the invertebrate will be conditioned to stay on the side that does not undergo a temperature change. This goes to the extent that even when the temperature is turned to its lowest point, the fruit fly will still refrain from approaching that area of the heat box.[4] These types of apparatuses allow experimenters to perform studies in conditioning and training through reward/punishment mechanisms."

Apps/services like this already exist (see list below). So why build another?

Three reasons:

  1. Because none of them are great.
  2. And a well designed universal contracting platform / digital skinner box has real potential to improve lives.
  3. And Commit provides a solid architecture for building out Qarmiq.

How to think about Commit

Narrative: Commit can be seen as a combination of (i) a To Do list, (ii) a habit/behavior tracking app (like Way of Life), (iii) a social messaging platform (like Twitter, Facebook) and (iv) a commitment contract where the user defines any arbitrary goal and defines some pass/fail threshold, and makes some commitment with respect to the pass/fail result.


  1. Alice wants to begin exercising at home daily.
  2. Alice writes a message on Commit: "I commit to do 10min of cardio every day for 30 days."
  3. Alice writes a new message, adding two conditions to her goal: If I achieve my goal, I'll get a puppy. If I do not achieve my goal, I'll give 00 in bitcoin to the KKK.
  4. Alice writes a message to Bob** asking if he'll be her accountability partner (hold her to her commitment) - Alice embeds the messages ii and iii.
  5. Bob writes a message to Alice: He agrees to be her accountability partner. And he shares an escrow payment address with Alice.
  6. Alice sends 00 to the escrow address.
  7. Alice writes messages to Commit to track her performance. On day 17 she writes a message indicating that she did not exercise.
  8. Bob receives Alice's message and sends the escrowed fund to the KKK.
  • *Bob can be a computer/program - any autonomous agent acceptable to Alice. Or a group of people where M of N votes are required to trigger threshold event.

Note: Tracking, for some goals, could be automated. A lot of options here, but automated tracking could be achieved by linking up with a heart rate monitor, or some geo-fencing tool or a formal check-in/member sign-in at the physical location (or Peloton bike). Pretty much anything imaginable. Lots of APIs that could be integrated.

  1. Commit is a way to write and save messages.

1.1 Example1: Hello.

1.2 Example2: Playing Optional Cat Pizza House Watermelon Tin Pad Carpet Paint Terry

1.3 Example3: Go to gym once a week

  1. Messages can be private or shared

2.1 Private Messages: Accessible only to author

2.2 Shared Messages: Author may grant access to any individual or set of individuals

2.2.1 Shared Messages: You could grant access to a specific user. Or a group of specific users. Or to a defined set of users: "All Commit users who are also members of Gym X" or "All twitter users" or "All left handed people"

2.2.2 Shared Messages: There needs to be some mechanism(s) for defining and validating attribute parameters. TBD

  1. Messages about Messages

3.1 Any message can reference any other message


Commit and ErasureBay

ErasureBay is described as an "open market for information of any kind."

In essence, ErasureBay is a specific kind of contract platform. ErasureBay allows you to post a request for some information, perhaps the personal phone number of Tom Cruise, and to tie a monetary reward to the request, payable to any person who fulfills the request.

This example is offered to explore the conceptual kinship between Commit and ErasureBay. and a potential evolutionary path for Commit.

The practical starting points of each project are somewhat different - ErasureBay is highly decentralized and typically will involve separate agents. Commit will not (initially) design for censorship resistance and may often involve only one agent - users making promises to themselves. But at a higher level the systems are quite similar: (i) An offer, (ii) acceptance, (iii) attachment of consideration, and (iv) some mechanism for enforcement.

List of Existing Commitment Contract / Social Accountability Apps

  • StickK ( "Our mission is to redefine goal-setting using data-driven techniques that empower behavioral change. We believe that with the right tools and resources, anyone can transform their goals into reality."
  • Habitica ( Gamify your life
  • Pavlok ( Pavlok is the wearable device that releases a mild electric stimulus to help you reduce cravings, break bad habits, and change your life. Pavlok is your natural and lasting solution to quitting smoking, nail biting, hair touching, negative thinking, procrastinating, eating sugar, and more.
  • And half a dozen more...

H/T to Diana Fleischman ( for introducing me to the concept of Skinner Boxes.

Related Research

Tying Odysseus to the Mast: Evidence from a Commitment Savings Product in the Philippines: “After twelve months, average savings balances increased by 81 percentage points for those clients assigned to the treatment group relative to those assigned to the control group. We conclude that the savings response represents a lasting change in savings, and not merely a short-term response to a new product.”