Decentralized Autonomous Organization as Social Automatization: do we need techno-cratic governance ?

The whole blockchain development is a very good example of ‘value-sensitive design’, i.e. how the material interests and visions / intentions of various human groups enter into design decisions. The underlying cyber-libertarianism is a composite of different sensibilities, all of which are competing for the design direction of our new technological systems.

The original Bitcoin/Blockchain design is very much beholden to the so-called anarcho-capitalist vision of propertied democracy, one dollar, one vote, and with an in-built system for rent-extraction, which it aims unsuccessfully to distribute. It rests on a underlying vision as society (if we can call it that), as consisting of un-related individuals freely going into smart contracts into each other. It favours individual decisions and avoids collective decision-making.

Another stream of thought was represented by the Backfeed Magazine article we excerpted two days ago, which explicitely calls for democratic decision-making and governance by peers, and which is much closer to the sensibility of the P2P Foundation.

But there is of course also a very strong undertone of techno-cracy, which is exemplified here by the same author, Julian Feder, which years for organizations that automatize social relations and exist independently of humans and their messy decision-making processes.

This is very well expressed in the following excerpt.

Julian Feder:

“The Idea of a Decentralized Autonomous Organization that truly isn’t controlled or owned by any particular individual isn’t only revolutionary on a political or social level. One is almost tempted to call it an ontological revolution, one that redefines the basic categories of what is objectively real and what is simulated.

Classic distributed organizations such as shared stock companies, nonprofits or cooperatives simulate distribution. Their existence depends on laws, terms and regulations – guarded and executed by armed men and women (mostly men) – which restrict the otherwise total control of the individuals in power.

In comparison, a DAO, once in place, is a self-existing entity that transcends time, space and the personal existence of specific individuals and their ability to use institutional force. It is in many ways something entirely new; one could call it a new form of social automatisation, solely made out of information.

The idea of an organization without the need for an headquarter, which exists almost outside of physical space and that cannot be captured or seized by any kind of military force, would have sounded almost religious just a few decades ago. The bewildering implications of this new potential form of human organization seem to a 20th century mindset almost as alien as the landing of a flying saucer on the lawn of the Whitehouse, albeit less photogenic.

It might sound pathologically optimistic, if not straight out insane, but this new ability we are developing – to create autonomous complexes made out of information that exist in some kind of digital hyperspace and that have the ability to execute themselves and self-regulate while abiding nowhere and everywhere at once, with no servers or strings attached, might not just revolutionize governance and modes of production, but might very well transform our very understanding of nature itself.

Why would one claim such venturesome preposterousness? Well, because in the few decades in which our information technologies developed from handwritten manuscripts to mass distributed copies of disembodied information, our universe expanded from a few dots encapsulated in transparent spheres to a mind boggling vastness reaching to the outer ends of infinity, that’s why. In the end, it was our ability to conduct an (almost) global dialog, which transcended the ingenuity of the particular individual that brought us the telescope, calculus and eventually a new and alien universe.

Furthermore, this new technology of Decentralized organizations, databases, applications, contracts and what have you, are not just a new tool for exploring the world. To a large degree they are a new territory of existence to explore: a dimension of autonomous information.

But then again, It might very well be too early to jump to specific conclusions. We wouldn’t expect a 16th century peasant to foresee late consumer capitalism and to understand what an employee of Goldman-Sachs does for a living – let alone contemplate on interstellar spaceflight. But luckily time seems to speed up as history progresses so hopefully it won’t be too long until we’ll be granted with a glimpse of a world to come.”

3 Comments Decentralized Autonomous Organization as Social Automatization: do we need techno-cratic governance ?

  1. AvatarBrunoMC

    I completely agree with the analysis! And I might add, beyond technocratic thinking, this excerpt is a very good example of the modernist mindset that dates back to the 18th century, talking as if human history is progressing inevitably on a straight line, and that we can master nature and human relations through science and technology. By now I think there’s a lot of good examples out there to show how this mindset has worked out for us so far (the most recent one is the crisis of market fundamentalism and European technocracy turning into pure authoritarianism), and you can also tell that those who praise it are the ones in a privileged position.

  2. AvatarAdam

    Feder’s commentary is the most poignant I have yet seen on DAOs. For many people I have spoken to about, it is not only bizarre and enigmatic, but also lunacy. That said, I have thrown my hat in the ring and purchased some DAO tokens for various projects.
    My worry is that despite the decentralized, distributed nature of its existence, large tokenholders can still direct the ‘company’ in ways that they see fit. In other words, if tokens can be purchased for digital currency (such as ETH or BTC), well then the wealthiest will still come to dominate the “democracy” in the system. As you said, 1 dollar = 1 vote.
    It also can discriminate against those of us who are not early adopters or early understanders, those of us who cannot comprehend a DAO will not buy into one. If this becomes the new form of corporate ownership and production, well then the geek shall inherit the earth indeed.
    I cannot understand the code of an ethereum smart contract, despite the fact that they are transparent and observable for free by all who care to look. While the promise of all this is super disruptive – and in many good and positive ways – it could also serve to empower a class of folks at the expense of the rest of us.

    PS- are you still @ UW-Madison? If so please email me directly.

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