Conceptual Implications of Legal Bots for Future Blockchain Infrastructure

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* Article: Legal Bots: Conceptual Implications for Future Blockchain Infrastructure. By Max Hampshire. Bot Club, Het Nieuwe Instituut, 2018


Great introduction to the importance of Distributed Autonomous Organizations and their relation to non-human agency.


"The advent of Decentralised Autonomous Organisations (DAOs) has already begun to give rise to scenarios that push the limits of our conceptualisations of ownership and agency in the non-human realm and will to continue to push them ever further as blockchain technology develops. This text aims to help sharpen some of those conceptualisations, in order to better understand the magnitude and sheer weirdness of DAOs in both the near- and farther-future."


DAO's have autonomous agency

Max Hampshire:

"What is perhaps initially most intriguing about DAOs is that they have some kind of autonomous agency. They have the ability to act more or less independently and to manage their own assets (digital or otherwise). This agency exists even on the most the most basic level of a DAO optimising itself for its continued existence: retaining enough tokenised capital to continue paying for the basic transactions it needs to in order to continue operating.

However, the agency of DAOs jars with the conceptualisation of agency we ascribe to many other autonomous agents at work today, of which we tend to have a fairly anthropomorphic understanding. For instance, the algorithms performing high-frequency trading (HFT) are simply faster and cheaper versions of human traders. The wild variety of chatbots that rely on machine learning are likewise the faster, cheaper, and more easily controllable solution to the organisational problem of providing an always accessible interface to customers - they are the 24/7 stand-in for someone answering the phone. Also, many robots (hardware-based agents) such as those coming out of DARPA, are almost always ‘human’ in size and scope; emulations of animals and humans, built from the perspective of human designers and engineers.

DAOs exhibit a far broader form of emergent operational agency; resembling more the systems for market analysis or the actions of animal hive-minds than the actions of other software or hardware-based agents." (

The legal personhood of DAO's

Max Hampshire:

"A more helpful example of a previous instantiations of non-human agency is the ‘legal person’ of the corporation. A corporation is a so-called legal fiction, that - in certain regards – is treated as an individual agent in the legal realm. It is a non-human rule-based construct that has rights and obligations conferred onto it, such as the ability to own property, or be legally liable for its actions.

According to science fiction author Charles Stross, corporations are not only the first non-human legal persons, they are also the first form of Artificial Intelligence because they were the first artificial non-humans that acted - on an abstract level - autonomously, and solely in their own self-interest. They have one main goal: survival. A corporation survives by making money in order to pay its staff and continue investing in either itself or sections of the economy that might support its future investments. In short: a corporation is a non-human legal person that metabolises capital, just like a DAO is.

Corporations and DAOs show enough similarity with regards to their actions and forms of agency that it is not too far a stretch - and is in fact useful - to conceptualise DAOs as legal persons in much the same way that corporations are, augmented by the inherent characteristics of blockchain technology. They are decentralised, autonomous legal persons that do not necessarily have to abide by the laws and regulations of a nation state.

But DAOs are not merely the decentralised cousins of the legal persons that are corporations. Corporations do not necessarily bring about the weird range of potential cases of ownership and legality that DAOs do." ((