Augmented Forests

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Larry Lohman:

"The plan for the German forest comes in several stages. First, shareholders buy the forest. Then a contract is drawn up between the shareholders and a “digital representation” of the forest. The shareholders’ land is signed over in exchange for stakes in the proceeds from the forest’s operations.

The so-called “augmented” forest that results legally owns itself. Via computer programmes, it becomes, bit by bit, an agent, a bearer of rights and duties. As such, it’s indebted to its shareholders. To pay off those debts, the forest goes to work managing itself profitably. Once it has transferred enough of its proceeds to the shareholders, it becomes a completely independent economic entity.

Thereafter, the cyborg forest negotiates its own automated contracts with humans or other agents, acquiring resources, making payments, and producing value.

It might contract to get satellite pictures of the property from an external provider. It might hire drones to monitor tree growth and health. After calculating how much timber could be sold each year while maintaining the forest’s integrity, and scouring databases worldwide to find the best prices for its products, it might draft logging and transport contracts. Leveraging Google Translate, it could even “consult” with human or robotic authorities on the legal codes of any country it needed to do business with. To borrow the words of one early prophet of such “non-human agents”, the representation of the forest is now free “to roam the internet with its own wallet”.

Admittedly, the cyborg forest is as yet not possessed of much artificial intelligence. It won’t be much of a conversationalist. So far, its actions are restricted to certain kinds of informational and commercial exchange on the internet. From the outside, it might look merely like a rudimentary, electrified version of what Amartya Sen once called the “rational fool” – the fictional, one-dimensional Homo economicus the modeling of whose antics has so greatly preoccupied orthodox economists.

Still, to some degree it already interacts with humans “as a peer, not as a tool.” At least on the information superhighway, it is capable of earning some facsimile of identity, trust and respect. After all, on the “internet of things”, as Nature 2.0 visionaries enthuse, “no one knows you’re a forest.”11 Remember that even as early as the 1970s, the simple computer programme ELIZA was mimicking nondirective human psychotherapists so well that it was beginning to be talked about as a possible substitute for its human peers.

As time goes on, as the forest proves its ability to be able to take care of itself, it might even expand and reproduce, independent of the costly labour of human conservationists and safe from the irresponsible impulses of other, more plunder-prone humans. It could begin evolving in creative and productive ways unpredictable to, and even unanalyzable by, humans.

Properly programmed, the new forest-capitalist could even channel the profits it makes into providing people with a universal basic income, in something like the way land, water and forest commons have customarily provided for the subsistence of rural communities.

Once detached from humanity, in short, the cyborg forest would be capable of advancing the dream of the more machine-dazed prophets of the Russian revolution – capital accumulation for the people. But instead of the workers owning the means of production, the means of production would own themselves, freely sharing with humans the abundance that they create. Capital would become like a tree: “just providing.” (


More information

  • Paul Seidler, Paul Kolling and Max Hampshire, “terra0: Can an Augmented Forest Own and Utilise itself?” Berlin

University of the Arts, 2016,