Decentralized Autonomous Society

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JZ Garrod:

"While the prospect of a washing machine that can order its own detergent is intriguing, the true draw of Ethereum is its potential to remake the social world. The central institution that makes this possible is the decentralized autonomous organization, or DAO. As the name suggests, DAOs are essentially digital organizations that manage themselves: “long-term smart contracts that contain the assets and encode the bylaws of an entire organization” (Buterin 2014, par. 2). Depending on how they are structured, certain members of the DAO might be able to spend its funds, or modify its code.

Buterin (2013, par. 2) has described DAOs as an attempt to extend the logic of the industrial revolution upwards. Where that revolution allowed us to “start replacing human labour with machines,” it only automated the bottom half of the equation, “removing the need for rank and file manual labourers.” DAOs are thus an attempt to see if it is possible to “remove management from the equation, instead.” With such technology, it becomes possible for selfdriving cars to autonomously make micro-payments to each other for the right-of-way, or to share data plans via mesh networks, making much of the internet infrastructure unnecessary (Pollen 2013).

For many true believers, however, smart contracts, blockchains, and the DAOs that might stem from them, are the building blocks of something much bigger: the decentralized autonomous society (DAS). While there are competing versions of this possible future, the predominant theme is a society in which technological development has disrupted the centralized and hierarchal forms of the nation-state system.8 In this society math, perfect information, and market mechanisms are supposedly able to solve the problem of organizational politics by removing humans from politics altogether.

Viewed as inherently corruptible creatures, the thinking goes that it is far more sensible “to base a future economy on the mathematical laws of the universe, outside the grasp of human error and manipulation” (Patron 2014, 102).9 Through DAOs, it is claimed, we might be able to augment human autonomy by automating the governance of all organizations, since DAOs can run “without any human involvement under the control of an incorruptible set of business rules” (Larimer 2013, par. 2). And since the code simply runs itself, these DAOs could run forever, making politics a simple problem of engineering.

Inherent in this view is the idea that political elites have too much power, and are a hamper on freedom. Billionaire Peter Thiel, for instance, writes that he no longer believes “that freedom and democracy are compatible” (as cited in Frank 2015, 27). Perhaps it could exist, “he imagined, in cyberspace, in outerspace, or on high-seas homesteads, where individualists could escape the 'terrible arc of the political.'” Similar remarks have been made by Roger Ver, the prominent Bitcoin investor, who argues that such technologies “will prevent governments from being able to just print money at will and then use that to buy tanks and guns and bombs to murder people around the world” (as cited in Dodd 2015, par. 4). While not all cryptographers share these views, Karlstrøm (2014, 29) notes that there has always been “a strong current of libertarian sentiments in the discussions about cryptography.” Indeed, the popular economist Paul Krugman (2014, par. 1) has confessed that his own uneasiness with Bitcoin stems from the fact that it is “intimately tied up with libertarian anti-government fantasies.”

Many, however, claim that these anti-government fantasies are unrealistic. More likely, claims Kosner (2014), is that DAOs intermingle with other, more traditional, centralized organizations, with each focusing on what it scales best to (Kosner, 2014). This point is echoed by De Filippi and Mauro (2014, par. 22) who suggest that it is more plausible to see a future in which “decentralized organizations with distributed models of governance, independent legal systems, or perhaps even autonomously governed communities . . . compete with both governments and corporations.” (

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