In the six years between the notorious exploit of “The DAO” in 2016 to today, more than 4,000 groups and over $8 billion in treasuries bear witness to a feverish rise to prominence of “decentralised autonomous organisations”. As on-chain treasuries typically operated via member token voting mechanisms and centralised group-chats, this nascent organizational model has been rapidly adopted to power a wide range of projects from NFT creator and collector clubs, to lending pools and carbon asset markets. The burgeoning DAO landscape is determined to generate and share value at scale, while proliferating the worthy ideals of transparency, security, interoperability, and community ownership.
Are these experiments in distributed coordination really as “decentralised” and “autonomous” as the moniker suggests? What should we make of the sheer weight of attention and capital being invested into (and around) DAOs, and how does this model compare to off-chain alternatives like DisCOs and traditional co-op models? How can DAOs translate their optimism into impactful action, as opposed to that which merely resides in the cultural imaginary? Who is able to understand, participate in, plan and engineer such technologically-complex scaffolds, and what inequities may linger as long-term features rather than early-day faults? Will DAOs bring us toward the next age of an Internet befit to address Earth’s urgent contemporary issues, or will this new development further exacerbate the colonialist legacy of digital divides and ecological extraction?
Despite many controversies, the frenzied quest to experiment with automated governance, trustless accounting, and mass coordination beyond borders has cracked open timely inquiries against an increasingly hopeless status quo of centralized financial, political, and cultural institutions that have proven their resolute inadequacies amidst a global pandemic. Almost seven years into the era of Turing-complete blockchain networks, will the gaping chasm between the naivete and hubris of optimistic “BUIDLers” and the stark realities of daily economic, technical, and governance attacks ever close?
Text written by Alice Yuan Zhang & Wassim Z. Alsindi
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