The Rise of Automated Organizations

DAO vs DisCO

Automation as a concept can be applied to just about anything. As software plays a growing role in how we organize ourselves, and automated communication increases in sophistication and nuance, the opportunity arises for the automated organization.

Blockchain proponents were one of the first cultures to really champion and advocate for the rise of automated organizing. Doing so benefits their larger mantra of decentralization, and as a result, the concept of the Distributed Autonomous Organization (or DAO) arose.

A DAO is an automated organization, most often described as an automated corporation. Governed by smart contracts and operated by algorithms, a DAO is intended to be an entity that can function at the speed of the web.

While many DAOs exist in the loosest sense of the word, the DAO as a whole is a kind of myth, a promise or threat of an impending future where autonomous corporations rule the marketplace.

Thankfully a response to this myth has arisen, witness the emergence of the DisCO! The distributed co-operative! However before we bust a move about the DisCO, let us first break down the myth of the DAO.

One of the reasons DAOs remain a myth, is due to the spectacular failure of the first (publicized) attempt in early 2016.

The creation of this DAO started with spectacular success:

Until the DAO was hacked:

In the end the hack was resolved by reverting to earlier software that allowed the autonomous organization to be manually overridden. It was a controversial move as purists wanted the hack to stand, as a consequence of bad coding, and a testament to the automatic nature of the organization.

While the trust in this particular DAO dissolved, the trust in the concept of DAOs continues to grow.

It is worth taking a moment to point out that for many of these developers, a distributed autonomous organization is just a suite of software, most often free and open source software. Therefore once someone makes gains in developing a DAO, it doesn’t take much for someone else to copy it, iterate, and add their own modifications to what they believe an automated organization should be.

OK, that’s enough about DAO bros. Let’s move beyond the “blokechain” and on to their smarter sister who’s hanging out in the DisCO:

Inspired by the concepts behind the DAO, a the DiSCO manifesto articulates an alternative approach that integrates co-operative organizing and a need to take into consideration a lot of the emotional and care based labour that automated systems ignore.

Have you ever gone out dancing with a bunch of friends? If so, chances are you went to a disco, at least once or twice. How does a group of friends dance at a disco? Everyone knows, or learns by observation, some basic rules of social cooperation — avoid stepping on anyone’s feet, watch out that you don’t slam into people sharing the space around you, and please don’t micromanage the dj. But everyone can decide when and how they want to dance, whether solo, in pairs or in larger groupings. The aim is to have a good time together, and to care about each other’s well-being, too.

Inspired by the spirit of Emma Goldman the people behind the DisCO manifesto definitely want to dance their way to the revolution.

The manifesto has been in the works for several months and is the result of many years of work and organizing by the individuals and organizations supporting it.

Much like the work of this newsletter, it offers a different narrative by which to understand the opportunities afforded by newly emerging distributed technology combined with what we’ve learned from socializing our media.

The question that this report seeks to answer is how these social impulses and practices can be structured and facilitated by tech platforms, and made stable and durable. Toward this end, the report identifies seven principles that characterize distributed cooperatives:
1. Geared toward positive outcomes in key areas (such as social and environmental priorities)
2. Multi-constituent
3. Active creators of commons
4. Transnational
5. Centered on care work
6. Re-imagining the origin and flow of value
7. Primed for federation

If DAOs are an extension of blockchain technology into automated organizational form, than DisCOs are what happens when humans are the intended beneficiary. DisCOs are an extension of open source technology that recognizes automation is pointless if it doesn’t empower the humans who use it.

Similarly where DAOs attempt to embrace an apolitical or depoliticized form of organization, DisCOs recognize that organizations are inherently political, and that an automatic organization should be configured accordingly.

As we explore concepts like automation, and ponder the future of work, the rising role and potential disruption by DAOs and DisCOs is something we’ll come back to.

One of the missions we’ve embraced here at #metaviews is to explore and pursue alternatives to the dominant technology platforms and companies. DisCOs definitely offer this, but in some respects so do DAOs, if configured and governed accordingly.

What do you think? What kind of automated organization do you see as being successful or uniquely able to leverage our current social media driven society?

If you could create your own DisCO or DAO what would it be?

Jesse Hirsh

Jesse Hirsh