The following post was written prior to a session at the Smart Contract Research Forum on the topic of ‘DAO theory’. Questions we were asked to consider included ‘what is governance?’, ‘what is a DAO?’, ‘how do we design for resilience?’, and ‘are plutocracies ok?’ I recommend watching the session to hear other viewpoints from Michael Zargham, Joshua Tan, Quinn DuPont, and moderators Eugene Leventhal and Richard Brown.

People think of DAOs as code instantiations of democratic political process. A better way to think of them is as a competent civil service.

What is Governance?

To govern is to structure the field of…

This is Part 2 of a two-part series on why bitcoin is almost certainly much greener than you think.

In Part 1 I outlined why I am sceptical of models that estimate the carbon footprint of Bitcoin to be the equivalent of a small country. Among other reasons, an unknown proportion of Bitcoin miners are using clean energy, such as hydro, wind or solar. Bitcoin mining is also being used to stabilise energy grids and to reduce emissions from gas flares.

Is anecdotal evidence of this kind sufficient for making the case that Bitcoin is greener than is commonly reported…

Recently, on two separate occasions, I was contacted by journalists asking me for comment on the environmental implications of Proof of Work blockchains. Both news outlets opted not to run the story after I pointed out flaws in the sources they were pointing to.

In this article I outline why I think media commentators need to be cautious in their reporting on this issue (expanding on this tweet). In a follow-up post I discuss how we might get better insights into the environmental costs of blockchain by investigating geographical context, technological design, and the practices of miners.

Galaxiss (NFT) by Xenoliss. Licence: CC BY-NC 4.0

News request #1: Bitcoin mining contributes the same greenhouse gas emissions as Italy or the Czech Republic

On 7th of…

Blockchain is often referred to as a trust machine because it minimises uncertainty. People can perform various actions online using blockchain applications, knowing that those actions will not be undermined by others. The consequence is that we do not need to rely on external agents or processes to provide us with assurance that things will go according to plan. To borrow social theorist Diego Gambetta’s definition of trust, blockchain is “a device for coping with the freedom of others” (Gambetta, 1988, p. 219).

I prefer to think of blockchain as a cooperation machine. Cooperation occurs when those involved are incentivised…

You can read the first part in this series here or dive straight in.

When systems get too big and powerful, people have a tendency to group together and demand a stake, a say, in the decision-making of that system. Various attempts to develop ethical guidelines for automated decision-making systems like artificial intelligence (AI) exist, as well as calls for greater accountability through mechanisms such as oversight committees. Participation, however, can take many forms.

What might it be like to be part of a machine — a robot or infrastructure — that makes decisions? ‘Part of’ in the sense that…

Distributed blockchain platforms and applications can be designed in ways that make them accountable to their participants. Unlike blockchain systems that reserve some decision-making powers for executive-style committees or founders, these platforms and applications are governed by people who may be unknown to each other (often referred to as community governance, but perhaps better described as collective governance). These platforms in turn govern us, in that they shape what actions we can take within a sub-system, either through automation (algorithmic governance), or by their non-automated institutional qualities (imposing standards, enacting rules). …

An overview of how money is changing and why it matters.

[Note: The following article was my first dip into CBDCs. I did more research on this topic with Associate Professor Stacey Steel from University of Melbourne Law School. The article from that work is available open access in the journal Law, Technology and Humans here].

The saying ‘Not your keys, not your coin’ is used within cryptocurrency online forums and social media to remind people that their cryptocurrency is not secure unless stored in a wallet that only they hold the private cryptographic key to. …

In 2019 the Copyright Agency conducted a pilot using blockchain technology for the administration of resale royalties for Indigenous artworks. The Copyright Agency is one of over a dozen collecting societies in Australia, each of which collects particular kinds of royalties on behalf of producers. When an artwork is resold in Australia through a gallery or auction house it must be reported to the Copyright Agency, whereon the artist or their beneficiary receives five per cent of the resale price of eligible artworks (Department of Communications and the Arts). Over the decade since the scheme commenced, the Copyright Agency has…

For some years, one of Australia’s big four banks sent letters and push notifications to their customers warning them that their money might be at risk if they sign up to certain fintech companies. These financial services start-ups currently use digital data capture (otherwise known as screen scraping) to get read-only access to their users’ internet banking transaction details. With this data they are able to offer savings and investment services. The CEO of one start-up, Raize, pointed out that banks also use the same screen scraping technologies for various activities, and conform to the same security standards and financial…


‘In the future, everyone will exchange goods and services using distributed technologies’,

— they told me.

‘But realistically, how far off is that?’

— I asked.

‘Friday night’,

— they said.

All In

The entrance to the blockchain economy was a nondescript garage off a dark street on the far edge of Melbourne’s CBD. There was a small table, upon which sat a laptop and a fish tank filled with dollars. A small crowd stood around, phones at the ready while a man in a teal-colored hoodie turned their cash into Flex Buxx, the only currency worth anything where we were going…

Ellie Rennie

Professor at RMIT University, Melbourne. Australian Research Council Future Fellow 2020–2025: “Cooperation Through Code” (FT190100372) Twitter: @elinorrennie

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