Decentralized Self-Organizing Systems

Mankind has been inventing new ways to organize and govern since we showed up on planet earth. Our history is a gradual evolution of these organization and governance systems. Much of what we are using right now was invented in ancient Greece and perfected in western Europe in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.

I have been thinking for some time that we are on the cusp of something new. I don’t know exactly what it will be but I think it will be inspired by the big technological innovations of the late 20th century and early 21st century and it will be based on decentralized and self-organizing systems.

The Internet is, at its core, a scaled decentralized system. Its design has been a resounding success. It has scaled elegantly and gradually to well over 2bn users over fifty years. No central entity controls the Internet and it upgrades itself and scales itself slowly over time.

Open source software development communities are also an important development of the past fifty years. These communities come together to create and maintain new software systems and are not financed or governed by traditional corporate models. The goals of these communities are largely based on delivering new capabilities to the market and they don’t have capitalist based incentive systems and they have shown that in many instances they work better than traditional corporate models, Linux being the best example.

And, for the past decade or so, we have seen that modern cryptography and some important computer science innovations have led to decentralized blockchain systems, most notably Bitcoin and Ethereum. But there are many more to study and learn from. These blockchain systems are pushing forward our understanding of economic models, governance models, and security models.

I think it is high time that political scientists, philosophers, economists, and historians turn their attention to these new self-organizing and self-governing systems. Maybe they have and I am not familiar with the work. If so, please point me to it. If not, maybe this post and others like it will be an inspiration for the liberal arts to catch up to the computer scientists and mathematicians or at least work closely with them to figure out what is next, to articulate it and put it in the context of other governance and economic systems. From that work can come progress that mankind needs to move beyond the current systems, which work, but have many flaws and are becoming stale and in need of an upgrade.

#blockchain#crypto#economics#hacking government#policy#Politics#Religion#Science

Comments (Archived):

  1. kidmercury

    man. sunday fredland really hits the spot.i agree totally with your intuition. i think though that it will be both more decentralized and more centralized; more decentralized in the sense that the protocols will be more numerous, open, and modular — but more centralized in that because they are more open, they will require greater consideration when integrating in order to create an acceptable user experience. openness feeds closedness. the beef between the two is only an for the stuff in the last paragraph, it really starts with an entity willing to assume/usurp governmental authority. this entity must have the moral authority, as granted by some group of people, to do this. all moral authority stems from the truth. alas, it is the truth that sets us free.9/11 was an inside job,kid mercury

  2. Anne Libby

    This speaks to a pervasive transition, about a change in the functions we expect institutions to serve. (Something I’ve been puzzling over with respect to work and managing people…)

  3. marvinavilez

    Thanks Fred, this is something that I have been looking at for many years. The key for me has been around the mobile device. It is the game changer and most people do not realize the true power it brings. I think we have been trying to make old paradigms fit into this new global mobile system….it does not work. I have been doing lots of work around Team-emotion and I think that is where it starts….the emotions of the individual, the use of mobile, and the coordination of information all in one fell swoop.

  4. William Mougayar

    The spread of Centerless (title of my next book) self-organizing systems into non-tech is inevitable.The blockchain has always had 2 sides: 1) a technical side: via its peer to peer transactional nature, and 2) a political/philosophical side: the ensuing decentralization itself.Undoubtedly, self-organizing, crowd-powered, peer-to-peer, decentralized and widely distributed organizations/projects/initiatives ARE going to yield superior systems than the centralized flavor we are used to. There is budding activity outside of technology companies and technical protocols, but the tech field is where the initial fertilization is happening.For an example of political decentralization, look no further than Switzerland as a model, where they have 26 cantonal entities that enjoy a lot of power and autonomy. Below that, at the communal level, small villages have reunions of all citizens instead of parliaments, and they can even propose changes to the constitution. This is a bit similar to blockchain-based governance, without a blockchain.

    1. Guy Gamzu

      Very true. The Swiss system is almost 170 years old.More recently, several ‘old’ governance systems have actually suffered from ‘premature disruption” driven by the power of decentralized tech. In most cases it created a vacuum that was filled by another traditional system of governance – sometimes with greater flaws.Frustration from existing system isn’t necessarily the best catalyst.As mentioned above, innovative, open, unbundled, owned by nobody-and-everybody platforms are probably the way to go. Like in many traditional industries and markets, those new system should probably start small and focused on a specific area, and develop spirally from there.

    2. Vendita Auto

      Miletus : )

      1. William Mougayar

        Miletus like the ancient Greek town? Not following 😉

        1. Vendita Auto

          Yep way back philosophers Democritus – Leucippus comprehension through reason. May I recommend “Reality is not what it seems” (Carlo Rovelli) wonderfully lucid overview on quantum gravity, perfect for me as its is more Faraday than Maxwell (I have not lost the thread) : ) perhaps the plot !!

          1. Girish Mehta

            The best book I have read this year so far.

          2. Vendita Auto

            best personal update I have had in a long time

          3. William Mougayar

            Thanks !

    3. awaldstein

      Interesting…quite!I would rethink Centerless as a term though. Carries a ton of baggage with it.

      1. opoeian

        Well actually, my personal experience experimenting with temporary cultural settings and other examples I found around the world, show that culture is moving in the decentralised direction as well. Read this article on a concept called Limited Governance. It’s like limited government but is practiced in social/cultural settings:… Plus I spoke with Fred about this, and he seems to think it may be what comes after democracy. You might find it interesting…

        1. awaldstein

          Thanks–cued up to read.I am not saying that culture won’t become decentralized (whatever that may mean) but that centerless is a loaded term in its cultural and behavior connotations.

          1. opoeian

            Ok, sure. Cheers

          2. LE

            but that centerless is a loaded term in its cultural and behavior connotationsReally curious about why you say this. Can’t find any references by a search not even the urban dictionary.Can you explain?

          3. awaldstein

            All negative connotations that are the antithesis of the possibilities and strengths of a decentralized model.

      2. Twain Twain

        RUDDERLESS, direction less and unbalanced would be three connotations.

        1. awaldstein

          My point.William almost never listens to me on these things btw.

          1. LE

            From your other reply:It’s a about a strong individual center to drive the strength of working and creating in decentralized, individualistic grouping.So in other words… perhaps something like ‘centerstrong’ (not ‘centerless’) is what you are advocating.Or:

          2. awaldstein

            Really not advocating anything.Just letting him know that that name has connotations and on the cultural and market and behavioral side, it is not implying what he wants it to.

          3. Twain Twain

            Without center of gravity, objects also lose their Force = mass x acceleratoon.

          4. awaldstein

            sorry don’t know what you are trying to say

          5. Twain Twain

            In ski-ing a person (object) has to have a center of gravity. It helps with how quickly they can accelerate/decelerate and their balance on the skis.

          6. James Ferguson @kWIQly

            Show me a person without a centre of gravity, and I’ll show you a “lightweight” 😉

    4. opoeian

      Your book sounds great. It’s interesting that you say a spread from tech to no-tech for self-organizing systems is inevitable. My experience is the other way around. I came from a non-tech world experimenting with decentralised self-organising systems in the real world and then found them happening online and in the tech world. You might be interested in a concept called Limited Governance…

      1. William Mougayar

        Thanks. Can you point me to articles on Limited Governance? I couldn’t find something specific.

        1. opoeian

          Hi William, what did you think of the article? Does the concept of Limited Governance make any sense to you? Did you find it relevant to what you’re working on?

          1. William Mougayar

            I did. It needs some variance to be applied to blockchain, and I’m going to think about that for my research. thanks again.

    5. Kevin Hill

      Do you really think the blockchain escapes the need for trust? Because of side #2 I still see trust playing a central role. Once you have trust in the system, giga-hashes become a unnecessary cost, and if you take those away we aren’t really talking about blockchains.

      1. William Mougayar

        Well, trust has to be earned, and that also applies to blockchains and their underlying systems.Think of the following: What if existing intermediaries and central organizations were to be replaced by something else that doesn’t require them. Then a lot of ensuing change can happen.

        1. Kevin Hill

          I think you can understand a lot about what the replacements look like by understanding the forces the drove them to be replaced. Proof-of-work doesn’t seem like the driving force here.You don’t build trust by providing giga-hashes. You build trust by demonstrating that your interests are aligned and you are willing to cooperate. Early on in bitcoin’s history, providing hashes was a sign that you were a like-minded believer, but once it grows to become a dominate economic force just simple becoming a member of the community won’t be a strong enough signal.

    6. jason wright

      what we need is centerloss.

    7. Pete Griffiths

      A system like the Swiss works great when you have a relatively homogenous society. Less so when you have a highly variegated society.

      1. William Mougayar

        Do we know if it has been attempted elsewhere? Maybe it depends how we define homogeneity. I have hopes for the Swiss system to be applied elsewhere.

      2. Jordan Elpern-Waxman

        It’s the other way around. You federalize when you have diversity, so that the body politic is more homogenous at the local level. Then each disparate region gets its own representative to the federal gov’t. Switzerland, with its four official languages, all of whom have significant populations and territories where they are respectively dominant (or at least three of them do), is probably the most diverse country in Europe, modern immigration notwithstanding.

        1. Pete Griffiths

          You are right.But bear in mind that Switzerland is a tiny country, notwithstanding the complications of, for example the primary divide between the French and German speaking populations. The result is that there is still an tremendous amount of common ground across the whole nation and the local level concerns can indeed be dealt with locally. U A country like the UK had local differences but nonetheless a huge amount of cultural assumptions held in common. Japan perhaps even more so. But the the US is more like Western Europe in scale and diversity. The US is a country held together more by what Ferdinand Tonnies called ‘association’ rather than by ‘community.’ National and federal symbols and the rule of law become incredibly important in such a country. In such a country the tension between the national and the local level is problematic.

    8. JamesHRH

      ‘Centerless’ is really, really, really strong.Well done.

    9. Gregory Magarshak

      I think there will be a lot of decentralization, without the blockchain. The blockchain is a global singleton that is useful for solving the double-spend problem, but it is not necessary for other things, including decentralized chat, decentralized group activities, or even decentralized contracts.The main use of the blockchain is as a proof that something happened before time X. It’s easy to show that something happened after time X: simply store something that was only known after time X. But to prove something happened before time X, you need enough machines to record it, and solve the byzantine generals problem, to trust this.With willingly contracting parties, you do not need a blockchain because they are ready to sign each other’s smart contracts. With chat, you don’t need a blockchain because you don’t need to know the contents of every chat unless you join it – and when you join, you willingly enter into a contract, etc.I think the rise of scuttlebutt, IPFS, and our own technology the Qbix Platform will help spearhead decentralization without global singletons like Blockchain or even DNS (which has been a major target of attack, especially via poisoning BGP which relies on trust).You might like my talk on it here:

      1. William Mougayar

        thanks! i will watch it now.

        1. Gregory Magarshak

          Cool! What did you think of it? I want to reach out to you to discuss applications of decentralization using just the web (no blockchain). What’s the best way to reach you?

          1. Gregory Magarshak

            Hey, I sent it. Did you get the email?

      2. Nelson

        Very insightful and your NYC/Hurricane Sandy background helps to visualize what self-organizing & distributed organizations would really look like. Also it was very encouraging to hear how technology can help people instead of how it can be used to control or coerce people.

  5. Vendita Auto

    Questioning the truth frees ignorance

  6. awaldstein

    Great thought challenge.I’be been boning up on blockchain and searching for vision in anticipation of getting something from Williams conference.What I’ve found honestly is what I can’t call anything other than mainstream cultism.You challenge puts a cultural handhold in it for me.Have a good Sunday and a great holiday.Briskett is cooking.

    1. pointsnfigures

      Me too! Mine is smoking on the grill…..(we aren’t Jewish but there isn’t a good reason not to eat smoked brisket)

      1. awaldstein

        Enjoy! Unfortunately small city kitchens make us do this over two days, Briskett and Matza Balls and Chicken Soup today, all the rest getting ready for the influx of Lianna’s family at sundown tomrorow.

        1. pointsnfigures

… give this a try You can broil it or sear it instead of putting it on the grill!

          1. awaldstein

            Next year. I”m already 6 hours into it today.

  7. Max Mersch

    Would recommend reading Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘Capitalism and Schizophrenia’ (70s) about Rhizomes. They define Rhizomes through 6 characteristics: Connectivity, Heterogeneity, Multiplicity, Asignifying Rupture, Cartography and Decalcomania.On a philosophical level it’s the closest I can think of in terms of non hierarchic, decentralised systems with a lack of central failure points and a multiplicity of contributors.Have seen a couple of papers/posts describing the web as a Rhizome:-…-…-

    1. fredwilson


  8. Frank W. Miller

    While I think you sense the same thing I do, a major potential shift in now we live our lives, i.e. less necessary work. I think it needs to be looked at from it basics tho rather than from the point of view the details enabling it. I can’t predict how the rise of robots will physically manifest itself. I can however predict that we as a species will need to exert less of our time and effort going forward for our survival needs. The most interesting questions are also the most basic and have almost nothing to do with technology. What will I do with my time? How will I find meaning for my life? And from the aggregates’s point of view, who does the work and how much that remains? How is this managed fairly while still allowing for individuals to excel? These are questions of economics, philosophy, and religion and they are more interesting and profound than the nut and bolts of how we get there, at least to me.

    1. Matt Zagaja

      I am completely flummoxed at why people wonder how people will spend their time if they don’t need to work. Have they never met a retiree before? I was unemployed for a few months and besides job searching I took up running, ran a leadership training program at Yale Law School, taught myself Ruby on Rails, and enjoyed weekly trivia nights on Wednesdays. I’m very lucky because I’m currently paid to do what I would probably do if I wasn’t paid to do it (though please don’t tell my employer), however I’m sure plenty of folks have jobs they dislike and if they made money without needing to work would easily find outlets for their time.

      1. LE

        I was unemployed for a few months and besides job searching I took up running, ran a leadership training program at Yale Law School, taught myself Ruby on Rails, and enjoyed weekly trivia nights on Wednesdays.Let me make these points:a) A retiree is someone who typically (but of course not always) operates at a different speed than someone in their 30’s or 40’s (or pick another age group). As such what ‘floats their boat’ mentally and physically is very different. Plus they, by definition, have lived a life of presumably hard work or hardship that makes enjoying doing nothing acceptable and inviting as a daily activity. Or maybe they had a boring shitty job so doing nothing is great for them. (So the contrast provides the pleasure..) Also add on potential health problems and doctor visits and … (ok had to add that last one).b) You being unemployed for ‘a few months’ but with a bright future full of promise is much different than someone in flyover country or someone who is not doing something for more than a few months but confronted with the same for possibly years and years. [1]I am reminded of two things that I went through myself.When I sold my first company (small but enough money that I didn’t have to work at all) I bought a boat. What I always wanted. So then I spent some time on the boat and the fun simply wasn’t there without the ‘pain’ of the hard work. It’s good when you do it semi-occasionally. But to me at least it wasn’t great or even wanted when I could do it every single day and all the time.When I got divorced I was never happier for the first 3 months. Nobody to have to agree with or cater to. That lasted about those 3 months and then it wasn’t fun anymore and I had to get back in a relationship. Thank god for online dating!My point is a short time period and by someone of your age and particular situation is not representative of the vast population out there any more than they way I am (work all the time and like it) is representative. There is a middle ground. I’m at the office today like most days. It’s my man cave you might say.That said and to the parent’s point ‘What will I do with my time? How will I find meaning for my life?’ the answer is probably that things that we don’t even know about now will be ‘invented’ to answer those questions.Payload delivery: That is where the business opportunity is, filling that niche.[1] My labor professor in business school years ago who had run the NLRB told me something similar when I told him I spent the summer doing a shitty job (warehouse inventory I hated it) and thought I knew what it was like to be a working man.

  9. Rob Larson

    Gary Hamel has done some work in this area from the perspective of business management theory. See for example this fascinating book… and this HBR article among others:… .There clearly exist examples of highly successful organizations that have followed versions of this strategy. More work needs to be done in identifying the limits, under which circumstances these approaches can be expected to be successful, and when not.

    1. fredwilson


    2. Vasudev Ram

      >There clearly exist examples of highly successful organizations that have followed versions of this strategy.Right. And at least a few of them (organizations as well as approaches) exist or were started (from) quite a while ago. Two examples, one of which (Schumacher) I’ve mentioned a few times before on this blog:1: Small is Beautiful (book and approach):…by E F Schumacher:…and2: Maverick (book)…by Ricardo Semler:…of Semco: (organization) Text of Small is Beautiful at…The Schumacher Institute for Sustainable Systems home pagehttp://www.schumacherinstit…

      1. Lawrence Brass

        Small continues to be beautiful.

      2. Rob Larson

        Thanks – I have Semler’s book but not the first one you mentioned. Need to check it out.Here is another that explores this type of business model:

        1. Vasudev Ram

          Thanks, checking it out. I found Semler’s book Maverick really fascinating, since it talks how he (and the whole Semco team, over time), managed to change the culture and way of working at the company, toward the better ways they wanted, and that are described in the book. It took time, but they did it.

          1. Rob Larson

            Yes, what he did was incredibly impressive. I cant think of a more difficult task than to radically change the culture and organizational structure of a large company and have it thrive afterward.

  10. opoeian

    My friends and I experimented with decentralised, self-organising systems in cultural settings for 20 years.We once designed and ran a music/arts festival for 1000 people over 5 days, based on the concept of ‘No organizers’. We intentionally designed ourselves as organizers out of the picture by distributing power amongst the art villages and attendees so the entire event ran all itself with no one in control. Just to see what would happen. It took 7 years of experimenting to get to this point.The future of decentralised systems will come from the bottom up as people experiment more and more.In this article you will find more examples of this type of experimenting based on a concept called ‘Limited Governance’:

    1. fredwilson


      1. opoeian

        You’re welcome. So glad you raised the topic. Love it…

        1. pointsnfigures

          Mardi Gras in New Orleans has always been decentralized.

      2. Twain Twain

        I think the whole Bitcoin/Ethereum thing has been done in the wrong way — in the same way as AI.It’s not that Liberal Artists should be catching up with the Engineers and Scientists. It’s that the latter who should have included Liberal Artists from the start. Now they’ve built systems that have all sorts of validation rules and behavior limits that are simply NOT humanistic in design.Understanding and enabling CULTURE PRECEDES THE CODE and Blockchain+Ethereum have both had blind spots on this. It affects their distributed databases, the nodes+edges and the individual cell data.Part of the reason we haven’t been able to get the machines to Natural Language Understanding (so they can better deal with fake news, toxic comments and serendipitous recommendations) is because the Rational Scientific frameworks were laid as a foundation first.And they don’t accord with human culture.So I see the same culture problems and gaps in the foundational basis and codes between Blockchain/Ethereum and AI.

      3. Twain Twain

        The MetaCurrency team are the only ones I’m aware of who baked Culture and Liberal Arts into Block chain/Ethereum/Github-type code from the start.*…There are now teams that will try to bolt on some type of culture component to B/E and these structures will be as incongruent for humanistic governance as emojis and 5stars are for getting to coherent AI.Metacurrency team get it: create culture that bakes in Liberal Arts, Science & Tech from the start and it means you have thought of many people — not just the clique mindsets of engineers?Since ArtxScience is my preferred model of things generally, I’m a fan of their approach.

  11. Graeme Roberts

    Many of our problems of governance can be addressed by direct democracy using digital systems. Doing away with representatives and parties would mean that citizens could vote directly on all issues, as we do in referendums. The scarcity ensured by allocating a small, fixed number of votes per citizen, and then allowing their allocation to any pertinent issue, local or national, would mean that we are essentially conducting auctions in which citizens must make their own tradeoffs. Scarcity would also force the largely ignorant and indifferent to learn and care more. Politicians would be unlikely to go away, but would become advocates, the only job for which most of them are prepared.

    1. Matt Zagaja

      That would probably solve none of our problems. In fact it would exacerbate it. Instead of finding solutions that are inclusive and agreeable to most of the country we’d end up with a group of people steamrolling the rest of the population.

  12. Richard

    Visit The Art of Living center (in most cities), Google Sri Sri Ravishankar,

    1. Jaikant Kumaran

      It is decentralised without using technology.

  13. leigh

    The ecosystem approach to environmental management is one example. If you look it up in google scholar you’ll find many articles of where it has been applied in land use management. I’ve used it’s framework as a model for many things for years.

    1. Joe Cardillo

      +1 was thinking the same thing…ultimately we need to see these major changes as ecosystems, which defy simple explanations and easy evidence of cause and effect. Lot to learn from existing ecosystem research, and a lot of unknowns still.

  14. pointsnfigures

    Here is a post from a PhD economist that might get you thinking. http://streetwiseprofessor…. Craig is an expert on energy markets (and also Russia/Middle East due to his focus on energy) Craig’s big concern is that blockchain will limit competition, not increase it. He calls it the “Iron Law of Oligopoly”. Craig links to this post:… which shows how dominant players (Google) get all the profits.Personally, I have always operated and thought about Blockchain as a decentralized marketplace that could allow anyone to participate in the battle for surplus. Felt more open etc. However, my practical experience is opposite. We used to have lots of search engines. Now we really have one. We have just a few massive computer companies. Microsoft dominates. Amazon dominates. Facebook dominates. In the trading industry, very few firms dominate compared to the number of firms that used to compete. In accounting, we are down to the Big 4. I remember the Big 8. If you are old enough, you remember all the different banks there were. Now we are down to a handful. Insurance companies are the same, as are oil companies and other industries.Can blockchain blow all that up-or will it further consolidate power? I am open to arguments either way. I don’t think the outcome stops development. As Craig concludes, if the banks see a way to tighten their grip and extract profit, they will rush into blockchain. A quote, “Left to develop on its own, therefore, the blockchain ecosystem will evolve to look like the exchange ecosystem of the 19th or early-20th centuries. Monopoly coalitions of intermediaries–“clubs” or “cartels”–offering transactional services, with member governance, and with the members reaping economic rents.”

    1. LE

      Thanks for pointing out that professor, just forked to this which is what he thinks of the recent assault on Syria:http://streetwiseprofessor….

    2. Pete Griffiths

      I totally agree. History is littered with the corpses of optimists proclaiming how a new technology will further the democratization of society. Such corpses often lie alongside a sibling fantasy, that new media will speed the education and edification of the masses.

      1. pointsnfigures

        At the same time, new technology raises standards of living for everyone. I don’t mind that Bill Gates got rich. He made everyone’s life a lot more convenient. It doesn’t hurt to explore what could happen when everyone gets locked into a blockchain.

        1. Twain Twain

          “Locked into a block chain”? Isn’t FREEDOM to own, access and monetize our data one of the principles of Block chain?In 8 years of development, this freedom has not materialized for anyone but the miners (developers) and the investors who put money into Bitcoin etc.That’s neither digital democracy nor “walking the talk of the ideals”.

    3. William Mougayar

      I don’t think that last quote is accurate. No single person benefits from Bitcoin or Ethereum, but many at the edges do.

    4. Michael Elling

      Unintended consequences. Few really understand network effects. Value is captured at core and top. Cost borne (uniformly or not) at the edge or bottom. With no way to address this imbalance, such networks ultimately ossify and die out. When we get to internetworks the problems/issues are excerbated by scale and complexity.We need to revisit the debates of the late 1800s and early 1900s to understand how we can get to market driven universal service. Those who eschew settlements and embrace net neutrality, or the utopian ideals of blockchains and distributed systems, are incapable of even beginning a dialogue.

  15. Kevin Hill

    I think you are right about decentralized systems and cryptography, but I still don’t see the blockchain being a big point. The problem isn’t moving bits accurately, the problem is trust and curation. If you can reliably match market participants, you can gain trust, If you can become a point of trust, your public key is good enough, no need for giga-hash based security.I think the future looks a lot like city states. When you have robot workers and can build most things out of carbon, the major forces that have created large scale economic networks get removed. In such a scenario, there would still be networks for culture and some luxury goods. However the blockers are more about finding or becoming a taste-makers, or knowing the bleeding edge technology a few months before others.If you are serious about reading some primary literature, I think the best writing right now on dynamic systems are in ecology. There’s an especially good line of research studying radically different ways of thinking about chaotic biological systems using strange attractors and dynamic modeling. Good free full-text paper here.

  16. Matt Zagaja

    My friend Samer has been studying decentralized organizations for a long time ( Along with Nicola (… folks at Berkman have been looking at this for a while. I recommend the following video:… where Samer shares some of his research including the issue of unequal distribution of effort in these distributed systems.

    1. leigh

      Great links thanks 🙂

  17. Matt A. Myers

    This is where things will evolve – though my question is there VC money actively available for it? Is anyone putting money into it, which at first glance may look like an experiment – however I have come to realize real business structures that can be integrated and allow the ecosystem to self-perpetuate. Aside from from investment money being available – the next biggest problem with de-centralized systems is the branding.In response to wanting to try to solve this problem at some point I have been holding onto the domain – ENGN (pronounced engine) – for such a system, though I have to focus on I Live Yoga for the time being; I’d love to do all of my projects in parallel, as it’d create the perfect testing environment before testing it globally. I envision full control over data, profit-sharing among everyone who’s integrated – profit from capturing holistic value.Fuck – I want a shot at building this so badly. Ping me if you read this Fred and want my mind dump of thoughts/plans relating to this.

  18. jason wright

    “Much of what we are using right now was invented in ancient Greece and perfected in western Europe in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.”perfected. you think, really?

  19. Ryan Shea

    Complex adaptive systems are comprised of many independent agents competing over resources, where all agents have varying strategies, have the capacity for adaptation, and are subject to naturally selective pressures. These systems are evolutionary, self-organizing, and decentralized. The more fierce the competition, the higher the rate of experimentation and birth and death, and the greater the capacity for mutation and adaptation of the individual agents, the greater the resiliency, anti-fragility, and impact of the overall system. What works well spreads, what doesn’t work well dissolves away.Perhaps the most notable complex adaptive system we can look to is the evolutionary process in the biosphere on earth. The earliest organic life forms were born and reproduced and died and passed on their genetic material with some random modifications. The modified organisms that were more efficient at making use of their environment and reproducing were the ones that spread and crowded out their predecessors. That has resulted in organisms around the world that have adapted extremely well to their environment. The biosphere went from occupying a very small percentage of the earth to completely transforming it, from the makeup of the atmosphere to the composition of the oceans. And now, with the emergence of sentient organisms, the biosphere has developed the capability to massively change the earth’s surface and spread to other planets.The second example we can look to is capitalism and free market economics. The market can be seen as an evolutionary system with a high level of competition and experimentation. Companies can easily be created and destroyed. They vary greatly in the way in which they consume resources and impact their environment. The most successful entities have the ability to grow and reproduce. The characteristics of the best companies are not spread by the formation of spinoffs but by the institutional knowledge getting carried on by former employees who go on to start new ventures (see the PayPal mafia).Here are some examples of complex adaptive systems from the Wikipedia entry (…> Typical examples of complex adaptive systems include: cities; firms; markets; governments; industries; ecosystems; social networks; power grids; animal swarms; traffic flows; social insect (e.g. ant) colonies;[10] the brain and the immune system; and the cell and the developing embryo. Human social group-based endeavors, such as political parties, communities, geopolitical organizations, war, and terrorist networks are also considered CAS.[10][11][12] The internet and cyberspace—composed, collaborated, and managed by a complex mix of human–computer interactions, is also regarded as a complex adaptive system.[13][14][15] CAS can be hierarchaical, but more often exhibit aspects of “self-orgnaization.”[16]One aspect of Ethereum that fascinates me is its ability to form a complex adaptive system. Each of the smart contracts on Ethereum have the ability to consume resources (gas). They are born when they are put in the blockchain, they die when they run out of gas, and they spread when they have a strategy that other contracts are willing to pay for. This could lead to an insanely high level of experimentation and innovation. This can also be incredibly dangerous but I do believe that the risks here can be managed.What other types of systems can be created that have similar properties to the Ethereum blockchain? How can we enable a high level of experimentation of applications that can “live on their own”, that compete over resources like cash payments and human attention, and that can evolve over time through developer experimentation on open source code and building off of previous successes?This model represents a new type of application. These applications are not static and “owned” by their creators, but belong to the entire community. In a sense they are not applications at all but application systems, with many different applications using the same protocol. We’ve already seen an early form of this with the many email apps like Gmail and Outlook that all use the same SMTP email protocol. But this reaches an entirely new level when the applications can live on their own in the wild. That requires them to be serverless and able to be served by anyone, to be open source and able to be forked, to share a common resource known as a protocol token.Such applications will be able to grow and adapt much more quickly than their centralized counterparts. The individual “fitness” of the applications, or how they improve the lives of their users, will be unprecedented. The encompassing system will be a hotbed of innovation, turning into a blackhole that sucks users into the system and gives the best possible products at the lowest possible cost.This is what I envision as the future of application development. The complex adaptive system applied to software may be the key to decentralizing the internet, leading to an innovation renaissance and an explosion in economic opportunity.

    1. Michael Elling

      In a network, most of the value is concentrated at the core and top, while cost is distributed (sometimes uniformly, sometimes not) across the edge and bottom. Where is the balance in your model. Now think of ecosystems of networks. We clearly need settlements that provide price signals that serve not only to address this imbalance, but to provide necessary incentives and disincentives. Question is, who sets these prices? The answer is not obvious, nor easy.

    2. Richard Muirhead

      My youthful optimism that there must be a less iniquitous and effective approach to society than western democratic capitalism took a short ‘thought trip’ through the glamourised socialism of the mid eighties’ Soviet Union before it enthralled in the computer-networked empowerment of the individual. I started with bulletin boards, embraced the school LAN and leapt upon the Internet of the mid 90’s. In Facebook we saw a network of sufficient size and transparency so as to deliver powerful form of bottom-up or self-organising governance that I have always called ’emergent’. [Others also?]@RyanShea I too am beyond excited at the potential for complex adaptive systems to be unleashed in the new decentralised ‘stack’. The analogies in Nature and society underline its potential to be extreme effective. Therein also lies a warning, I believe. Humankind invented agriculture, steam power and oil power and in doing so unblocked the potential for the expansion of the species geographically and also in terms of population. The complex adaptive system that is evolution is intrinsically configured to optimise for such population growth, which is unsurprising since for millions of years scarcity of food provided a natural brake.It is not the case however, that this system is naturally programmed to evolve society and ourselves to improve the wellbeing of humankind as a whole (or the planet).Recently, we have seen how the latest Information Age inventions like the Internet and solar renewables might save us (less the planet more us) …and enhance access to food, education, sustainable energy.But…we have also seen how billions online and interconnected and informed in a digital social fabric have major challenges agreeing on what their common objectives should even be; on what the factual basis for decision-making should be … let alone what the plan of action should be. We see this in a type of digital balkanisation across the ‘interwebs’ within which those that wish to stir up popular dissent or assent can reach directly to their chosen segment of the market, electorate or congregation.If nature, society and science can be so imperfect in the design of (incredibly powerful) complex adaptive systems… Then before we allow these new decentralised apps to optimise themselves do we not need to be very clear on some fundamental tenets of governance? To create an ‘objective governance protocol’? You did not mention it, but if we add to your Cambrian explosion of not just serverless but ‘adminless’ and ‘peopleless’ apps the machine-learning driven capability to make decisions in areas where the decision rules are far from clear to any living person then we certainly have the potential for new legal entities we neither understand or control and potentially new ‘life’.

  20. Vishal Singh

    I think people are off the mark here. Markets a decentralized phenomena have been there for some good time. What is being said now is that technology will give rise some new kind of political and organization systems. A new way of living.I think none of this is going to happen. Political systems will remain same. Even organizations the way we work will remain same. The decentralized way of organizations will not work. Human nature is deeply hierarchical and looks out for a central authority to bring stability. Decentralization the way it, is imagined is against this human instinct. It will not succeed.

    1. SamuelHavelock

      Vishal’s comment is an opening for an observation I had regarding the majority of observations that tended to circulate around supporting technology formats. I think that the mass social networks are getting tippy to the point of non-utility. I think we are going to see an emergence / flight to what I call “Deep Trust Networks” that will feature at their core, communities of people who rely on each other to form and keep safe the Deep Trust Network to act as a sort of meta-network. Within those deep trust networks, technology tools will deploy just as everyone is mentioning. But the networks themselves will aggregate because of a uniquely human context that is relationship based on dimensions of shared experiences, or some other human identifier.

  21. Dan Ramsden

    I don’t think centralized or decentralized are absolute qualities, but rather relative. Decentralized implies the absence of an intermediary control mechanism, but even in blockchain disintermediation we see that the new intermediary is the network itself. Decentralization, in other words, is at best a surface manifestation and always in relation to some other object. The question, therefore, is not about one vs the other, but rather about who/what will control the center, how will this center relate to the balance and topology of the network, and what will be historical analogies to guide us, given that there won’t be precise parallels.(By the way, all of this is probably a net-positive for investment opportunities, as absolute decentralization does not seem like a path to capital formation.)There are some interesting ideas in Harari’s “Homo Deus.”

  22. Sean Canton

    I made a few years back to highlight the failures of our representative democracy and offer a better model for achieving a national consensus. It was deemed too rational for media coverage… It’s not that Civic tech isn’t thought of, worked on or discussed, it’s that the the power structures in our society resist disruption on three fronts because they reinforce each other.Education, keep em dumbMedia, keep em distractedGovernment, keep em fearfulWe need a faster way to iterate social priorities that smooths out the undue influence of individual desires over group well being.

  23. Pete Griffiths

    Social scientists have thought about this kind of thing a lot, as have organization theorists.A take on the matter of human organization that goes a long way to outlining why centralizing ‘stories’ that enable human beings to rally around them is so important, indeed important enough to be dubbed the ‘Cognitive Revolution’ is the work of Yuval Noah Harari. His two interesting books exploring the notion of stories and their significance for sapiens (i) Sapiens (ii) Homo Deus.Once you grok why such centralizing stories are so important I would recommend Francis Fukuyama’s two volume tome on political development (i) The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution (ii) Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalisation of Democracy. These works make it clear precisely why a centralized state is so important for social development.

  24. Jose Vieitez

    I think there is a lot to learn from the way governance has revolved over the internet, but the major difference between internet and “real life” (i.e. Non- virtual reality) is present bodily danger. Decisions to let the community handle and ignore a “troll” engaging between avatars online are low risk. In real life you can have someone physically attack another and take justice in their own hands because the community found it more efficient to ignore. A potential in-between test ground for pseudo decentraliziation is the roadway system: you have laws in place, and you have enforcement entities (officers) but most of the time laws could be ignored because there is no enforcement entity presently watching (such as running a stop sign when no officer is around). But with a sufficient number of automobiles on the road following the rules is necessary for the system to operate and breaking the law is self damaging (such as running a red light through a busy eight lane intersection). So people follow the laws because it makes it better for themselves.

  25. Pete Griffiths

    The state relies on centralization.The use of legitimate force relies on centralization.The rule of law relies on centralization….

  26. Lenore Thomas Ealy

    Additionally, there is important literature relevant to these topics that has emerged post Katrina that is analyzing success and failure in post-disaster context. These frameworks are important foundations for understanding work of decentralized systems in other social settings. See……and more broadly:

  27. LaVonne Reimer

    Yes! First, the Platform Cooperativism initiative more or less run out of The New School is trying to inspire these forms. Still somewhat theoretical and, well, philosophical. Closer to home, there’s Doc Searls’ work with Project VRM that, while primarily about flipping the model on vendor-customer relationships, actually carries forward his work in Cluetrain Manifesto. What I see in those efforts is the same point I endeavored to make in the context of your Fun Friday post. Look for entrepreneurs bringing educational backgrounds and perspectives that might just break the “pattern” most investors fund. Those teen-aged dancers were demonstrating a form of decentralized system. They wove software and hardware into their choreography in a way that said they “felt” its construct in their bodies. Grok basically. For me it’s experience with orchestration and other organic musical constructs (e.g., Descant going way back and more recently jazz) and, to some extent, being a 5th century Swiss Mennonite which is about as communitarian as it gets. This isn’t to say these structures cannot be learned but I believe as you stretch your ideals of great engineers and entrepreneurs you’re more likely to find innovations that work because the inventors grok organic models and communities.

  28. Terry J Leach

    I have been thinking about Ronald Coase and his siminal work “The Nature of The Firm” which introduces transaction costs for years, while observing the evolution of Blockchain systems like Bitcoin and Ethereum. My background as a Information/Systems Architect with an economics background. I see the potential quantization of firms and institution coming in the very near future. Blockchain systems are now in single player mode, to use a gamer metaphor, because we don’t yet have a a large supplychain of human interactions using Blockhains. It won’t be the financial sector that leads the way. When we have that breakout supplychain then the political scientists, philosophers, economists, and historians will take notice.

  29. Don Gooding

    FYI, while they are a bit early for you, the company in which I’m lead angel investor is finishing up its white paper to describe a new category of software that was designed to build self-organizing systems. “An executable graph is a loosely coupled internet of microservices with a fractal graph topology to solve complex, real-time, highly dynamic systems of systems problems.” And the choice of centralization vs. decentralization is up to the developer. An internet of microservices overlaid on internet of things can be decentralized. Or if they are feeding a weather simulation program running in part on a supercomputer, that’s ok too.

  30. Don Gooding

    One other important link: Santa Fe Institute, the think tank for complex systems, has always been multi-disciplinary. Self-organizing and self-governing are features of certain types of complex systems. The field is still in its infancy as far as I can tell.

  31. sigmaalgebra

    The US space program coined the phrase “The right stuff.”.Forthe cusp of something new. the concepts ofdecentralized and self-organizing systems. are, I have to say, “the wrong stuff’.Will they happen, seem to play a role, etc. Sure.Are they the real drivers? Nope and instead mostly just side-effects.The long standing and still crucial real drivers?Just four:(1) FoundationThe economy to provide what people need/want.No, not democracy, although the Greeks had it right: Settle disputes with paper ballots in an election instead of with weapons in battle.Thank you Greeks.(2) MoreMore in economic productivity to provide more. For what people want, there is a partially correct, famous one word answer “More”.We have made big steps up in economic productivity and are in line for more based mostly on the STEM fields, especially the better research and innovations. So, there is rapid progress with applications of digital computing and communications and bio-medical research and technology.(3) InformationA crucial pillar is lots of, seemingly unlimited, good information for how to get more economic productivity, etc., get people more of what they want.Here computing, the Internet, the Web, the search engines, PDF, TeX, etc. are crucial, and no doubt more is coming.E.g., one thing I want is more music, and I’m typing this with…playing, right, J. Strauss, Morgenblätter, from a New Year’s Eve concert of the Vienna Philharmonic, with Vienna ballet, as a music video, in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna with Maria-Theresien-Platz built in 1888–89.The whole thing, the music, the performance of it, the ballet, and palace, all are gorgeous beyond belief — a crown jewel of civilization.(4) BusinessFor a business, deliver a product/service that is a must have and not just a nice to have, where there is a profit, a step forward in economic productivity, and a barrier to entry.Then, for “the cusp of something new”, sure, more economic productivity, more getting people what they want/need, heavily from the STEM fields, and more information for the above.For “decentralized systems” over time, centralized versus decentralized will come and go depending on the other main drivers.For “self-organizing systems”, that’s mostly a misunderstanding: E.g., in some situations Linux had a big economic advantage — the points were still economic productivity, information, e.g., about the operating system, etc.Generally self-organizing, e.g., simulated annealing, are horribly inefficient, i.e., conflict strongly with the crucial economic productivity.Generally, and as they very much should, good design and engineering totally knock the socks off self-organizing.E.g., it was not some mysterious, unfathomable, serendipitous decentralization that made the TCP/IP of the Internet without a center; instead, TCP/IP was designed in part to be robust in battlefield situations were some nodes might be destroyed.

  32. Kent Bye - Voices of VR

    Economist Bernard Lietaer has talked about Yang and Yin currencies, where Yang currencies promote competition, the free market, hoarding, and individuation while Yin currencies promote cooperation, community, sharing, and a public commons. The Internet and open source are largely driven by Yin principles, but there’s still an advertising-based revenue Yang currency and economics driving the trading of privacy for free content and services. I’d recommend checking out Lietaer’s Future of Money and Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein.

  33. Keith Teare

    Fred, this won’t be an answer many will think of, history can be a cruel judge….BUT. The Soviets (small self-organizing councils at the local, regional and national level) that emerged out of Leninism in Russia after 1917 were exactly that. Their association with Stalinism makes them hard to use as a positive example, but if you remove that and remember they were spontaneous organizations that emerged to take control of decisions from the Tsarist system (Feudalism basically) they are quite relevant.

  34. Terry J Leach

    Correction to my previous post. I was listening to A16z Podcast: The Changing Culture of Open Source Listen to a16z Podcast: The Changing Culture of Open Source by a16z #np on #SoundCloud…It is a great discussion where I can see glimpse of what will happen when Blockchain systems start changing the nature of organizations.

  35. Alex Iskold

    Hey Fred, self-organizing systems have been studied intensely by scientists since I would say 1990 and even before there was a bunch of work done, like Cybernetics by Norbert Weiner in early 20th century. Check out for all things complex systems if you’ve not been there, you should go visit, its awesome place, i think you and Joanne will enjoy spending a week there. In terms of books, there are a lot, here are my favorites :… .

    1. SamuelHavelock

      To Alex’s point: Santa Fe Institute is widely regarded as a thought leadership center regadring the science of Complex Adaptive Systems.

  36. lunarmobiscuit

    Fred, I’m as intrigued as you, but quite a bit less hopeful.Yes, the internet is decentralized, except for ICANN, W3C, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and the half dozen network providers who agree to interoperate the backbone. The internet seems far more similar to the oligopoly of the oil market with its producers, tankers, pipelines, refiners, etc. than a panacea of democracy and distribution.Bitcoin, Etherium, Litecoin, and most of the blockchain community seem just as centralized as the Internet as a whole. Case in point, we wait for a half dozen mining pools to decide the fate of Bitcoin, with a “vote” that ignores the needs or desires of the half millions owners or the coins or the hundreds of thousands of businesses who accept the (so called) currency.While Satoshi and his copycats seem to have overlooked was the strong drive for people to acquire power over systems, and the strong drive to organize that power outside the rules of the system. Thus beget mining pools in Bitcoin, unexpected from the decentralized, democratic ideals of the initial design, just as the U.S. Constitution set rules that didn’t take into account political parties.I’m with the other commenters who say that if you want a democratic system, have the political scientists design it from the start, letting the computer scientists and cryptographers work their bit around a the edges rather than the core.

  37. PeterSchurman

    Hi, Fred. We spoke briefly at the Newco shift conference. You said you were a bit too tired for a pitch at the time. I agree with you that there are some incredible opportunities here. Here is one introduction to some ambitious work I and others are doing in this space. Would love to hear your thoughts on it:

  38. The Modern Shopper

    You may be interested in the work of Dr. Robert Kraut ……. Dr. Kraut has co-authored a number of books relating to the intersection of technology and the social sciences (often under the Human-Computer Interaction umbrella) throughout his career.His book, Building successful online communities: Evidence-based social design, focuses on practical design factors influencing the success of online communities and ways to apply psychology theory to their design.

  39. JamesHRH

    People like to be led.Self organizing fits your personality more than it fits history or the future.

  40. James Hazard

    We have been working for some time on the application to governance of open source methods and tech. It is a matter of connecting two ecosystems – i) open source collaboration (git, modularity, forking and merging) and ii) “law of the parties,” legal documents (contract and its kin, arbitration, etc.). Legal documents – despite their awfulness, opacity, oppression – are a (limited) form of party-based self-governance. They are not “self-enforcing” as the blockchain community seeks, but the blockchainers are discovering the limits of “Code is Law.” (Problems anticipated in the original article by Lessig in Harvard Magazine. Worth a re-read.)The blockchain movement and “smart contracts” provide the impetus for the transition to legal “prose objects” instead of .doc and .pdf.…Granular access control can make a truly P2P transaction system.Some “prose objects”:http://source.commonaccord….

  41. Sachin Patel

    Check out Paul Mason’s Postcapitalism book – he winds in a lot of threads about economics, history and decentralisation

  42. Miguel David

    This book is talking exactly how that has already come about in a few organizations:

  43. jukevox

    Here’s how decentralised creativity happened on Reddit a few weeks ago:…Some of the strategies here are interesting and iterative.

  44. Michael Elling

    “The Internet is, at its core, a scaled decentralized system. Its design has been a resounding success. It has scaled elegantly and gradually to well over 2bn users over fifty years.” Until you admit that the basis for the internet was the equal access and vertical separation of the monopoly in the 1980s, you’ll never really appreciate what has happened over the past 30 years; nor where we are going. From that perspective the internet has not been a success. It has resulted in siloes, ossification, oligopoly. In fact the arbitrage between wholesale and retail cost per bit is as wide or wider than it’s been since 1984. Fully decentralized and distributed systems run counter to network theory and cannot exist in the long-run.That said, history has revealed how we can develop generative and sustainable digital inter-networked ecosystems that don’t require us to monetize our privacy and allow the vapid subjectivity crowding out important, objective knowledge and thought. It starts with recognizing the role and establishment of interactor settlement systems (which runs counter to the settlement free internet model and notion of net neutrality). It then requires an understanding of where interconnection is necessary and when and how monopoly controls and barriers arise. At the end of the day, governing bodies other than simple majority need to weigh in on these issues. The Greek philosophers understood this over 2000 years ago.

    1. Seb Rebel

      There are technological and organizational solutions to eliminate or minimize oligopolies. But you are right. Blockchain is an obsolete technology.Blockchain technology is faulty. IMHO both Bitcoin and ETH/ETC are doomed to fail in the long run as they suffer from following fatal design flaws that stem from Blockchain technology itself:The blockchain distributed ledger pioneered by Bitcoin is effective at preventing double-spending, but inherently attracts (1) user cartels in the form of mining monopolies and (2) incompressible delays, as a result of linear verification and a winner-takes-all incentive lottery.Now we propose to forgo the “blocks” and “chain” entirely, and build a truly distributed ledger system based on a lean graph of cross-verifying transactions, which now become the main and only objects in the system.Our new cryptocurrency codenamed “Substar” under active development will be the world’s first unchained (Blockchain-free) decentralized cryptocurrency capable of hyperfast validation (< 1sec) and built-in resistance to 51% and 33% attack vectors that plague all contemporary decentralized cryptocurrencies e.g. Bitcoin and Ethereum. Unlike Bitcoin and Ethereum, Substar will not be constrained by hardwired extremely slow validation of transactions.You may view our story here:

  45. Noah Driggs

    On the economics side, I thought Stephen Weber’s book “The Success of Open Source” has some great thoughts on open source incentive structures and governance. I also think the economic literature on the theory of the firm and transaction costs (stemming from Ronald Coase’s 1937 article)–answering the question of why people “centralize” in the first place rather than just act as a market of independent contractors–is also key.Also on my list to read in depth: The Limits of Organization (1974), by Kenneth Arrow (Stanford economist, Nobel laureate). From what I take it, the book explores a lot of the collective action and decision making problems in organizations, concluding that decentralized management (i.e., consensus) is more likely when the organization has identical information and interests.Like I’ve heard Naval Ravikant say, the problems we think are new are often old. Thus we may be more likely to find insight in older literature and thinking.

  46. Samir Moussa

    Another great example I would say, although initially brought about by Google Brain with their own incentives, is TensorFlow. There was also Theano before that. These are definitely democratising machine learning with the computational graph model, along with high-level APIs like Keras, Sonnet, PyTorch, etc. Some cool stuff to watch for in this space.

  47. Santi Roman

    We tend to underestimate the resilience of the systems. No matter the typology . It will take time to transition to another system. And that’s fine because transition has to be progressive not radical. By instance, Linux and bitcoin are great but they are not mainstream despite (in the case of Linux) being around for a long time.

  48. Ossy

    The fact is that modern companies are innovating at product, service, process and business model level. However, very very very few are even conceiving to innovate at management and leadership level, which dictate/influence how things are organised. Look at Uber – it feels like being back to the 80s! As Dan Jones (father of Lean) says, as these companies scale-up they all catch the big company disease, sadly true… The problem is that we cannot think ourselves into a completely way to organise ourselves, it requires acting at any level before we start thinking differently.

  49. Gregory Magarshak

    @fredwilson:disqus I love this topic. I believe that in the next 10-20 years we will decentralize identity, social, mobile communication, and power generation.There are new technologies besides bitcoin, such as scuttlebutt and IPFS that have no “global singleton”. The only reason that bitcoin has a global blockchain is because it needs to solve the double-spend problem. But I believe that, in the future, communities will have local virtual currencies as well, without needing the global blockchain. All this decentralization helps strengthen communities. If Detroit and PIGS countries were able to do their own fiscal policy, they would be able to invest in local projects and not hemorrhage jobs. And much more…I gave a 10-min talk on it, which I think you might find interesting:

  50. Tilly Franklin

    For an accessible book on how the economy functions as a complex adaptive system, and what can be learned from looking at the economy in this way, try The Origin of Wealth, by Eric Beinhocker.

  51. Sebastian Wain

    Fred, look at Claudio Tessone’s academic work here.

  52. Simon de la Rouviere

    Hey Fred.I’ve found some research recently that I’ve had trouble finding corollaries with in social systems design & specifically online social systems.For example, in biological systems, you have the concept of hormesis, which is the act of introducing a toxin into a system that ends up strengthening it. It’s a subset of systemic responses that could be labelled as “eustress” (beneficial stress).I tried finding if there was instances of the usage of “eustress” in social systems, but after a day of browsing google scholar, didn’t really find anything.I stumbled into this rabbit hole because I was researching the value of blockchained tokens and its use in facilitating coordination. It’s effect to coordinate amorphous groups around shared goals are pretty strong (see Bitcoin or Ethereum). The act of introducing some complexity that requires some “proof of work”, means you can create an in-group token. Historically, this was the reason for the rise of collectibles, value and money (http://nakamotoinstitute.or….I come from both a computer science and sociology background, so it’s interesting me to see that there is indeed poor overlap behind some of the ideas. I would’ve expected to find research on this (maybe I just haven’t digged deep enough).This research was mostly done in context of exploring Curation Markets, an idea that I’ve been iterating on for a while. It focuses on creating topic-based tokens for groups to coordinate around. eg, what if each sub-reddit had a token? Published the whitepaper this week.….Looking forward to talking more in person at the Token Summit (where I will be presenting)!

  53. Preston J Byrne

    There are two kinds of blockchain systems in existence. Those which rely on courts for their ultimate enforcement, and those which can be manipulated by early adopter-stakeholders which are slow to change and can, and therefore will, be gamed.Much of the “decentralization philosophy” isn’t novel, it’s just rediscovering things like game theory or economics from scratch. Ultimately they will be subject to the same very real constraints of the less automated systems that preceded them.

  54. Provident

    You should take a look at Merkle’s (Merkle trees inventor) paper about DAO Democracy. Explores a self-living futarchy-inspired global governance system. One of the best reads in the space. We at have been very influenced by it.

  55. jer979

    There are two potentially very large societal benefits as we move to DAOs.The first is greater empathy and kindness. Sound strange? Not really when you think about the fact that your income is going to be dependent upon the voting power of others. Yes, you need to deliver a solid work product, but if you are a total 100% jerk while you do it, treat people rudely, eventually people will say (as they do w/social capital), this isn’t someone we want on our team. They will pull their votes and, poof, you’ll be gone.Second is faster innovation cycles. One of the big challenges for companies, especially big ones, is how great ideas are at the periphery of the network, but there’s not really a great way to source, vet and fund them at scale. Now, in theory, at least, the Wisdom of the Crowds takes over and the best ideas rise to the top. Kickstarter for DAO-novation.A third one, I suppose, is greater happiness of talent as they are able to micro-slice jobs aligned to their skills and maximize income.I blogged on this as I’m already doing it and living it with the Fermat Project ( and I’ve noticed it’s made me much more conscientious about how I relate to people, particularly online.Here’s the link for any who are interested: https://www.neverstopmarket…And if that doesn’t work, try this one (I’m posting a pre-published link above): https://www.neverstopmarket

  56. ronaldmulder

    This reminds me of what Henry Mintzberg calls ‘the plural sector’: (… – neither government nor corporate, but collective private action, rooted in communities (shared goals, shared values). Of course, we (especially in western Europe) have a long tradition in this plural sector: building societies, mutual insurance, agricultural co-operations. Network technology (internet, social media, blockchain) holds the promise of scaling these communities beyond geographical boundaries. And in some cases it did – but it also brought us these giant platform monopolies. Blockchain technology has, in my opinion, a huge potential to break monopolies and empower collective private action, I even wrote that it can save the free market:…. However, there are strong forces working in the opposite direction. After all, it is more attractive to invest in the next Facebook than to invest in technologies that will pre-empt all next Facebooks.

  57. Mɐx Bulger

    You’re probably familiar but all of Steven Johnson’s work is about this (specifically the book Future Perfect). Also this is the predominant direction of the modern field of neuroscience and biological exploration of consciousness– that it is fully decentralized. Strong parallels to computer science obviously.

  58. Felix Gniza

    Hi Fred,You started a very interesting discussion on decentralized self organizing systems in society and technology here. Since you are a business man I want to ask you: to what degree do we achieve the mentioned decentralized self organization at least on a smaller scale, like in a corporation? The company you’re a partner of, are your employees working decentralized self organizing?I’d guess that 99.9% of all companies are not only not living/working that way but can’t even ask for it because their work environment is not able to support this. The goal should be to choreograph businesses instead of orchestrating them! Of course, that doesn’t work with antiquated monolithic IT systems but only with a decentralized self organizing IT architecture (if you can still call it architecture then). But that is hard to find, too. There is only one company I know that offers technology like that – it’s a start-up from Germany. They didn’t make the break through yet but they are offering the future you predict already now! I’m happy to introduce you if interested.Best regards,Felix

  59. Edward Horneffer

    A good overview of the macro-trends that have lead us to this point (going back 2500 years).…This book was written in ’99 and predicted the rise of “cyber-currencies”

  60. Akseli Virtanen

    Thank you, great post. If you have a moment, here is a very good take on the emerging architecture of an open and kind of “post-organization” production logic where interconnecting events and agents make the organization and value (… how programmability of organization opens a way to the firm of the future where ten million people work together for ten minutes (… and how this begs also the question about the financial models of the future (….

  61. Dylan Dewdney

    I think the conceit that many in tech circle have is the feeling, intuition, or even conviction that code is panacea. It’s extended and expanded a great many of our mental capacities, just as physical machines did for our musclez during the IR, however code still needs to be coded, much the same as laws need to be written–indeed laws are societal fuzzy code, if you felt like extending the errant analogy any further. Some very superficial code–nee law, nee value–is beginning to get poked and prodded at by great innovative thinkers via blockchain technology, most notably Vitalik, Vlad, Gavin, et al. at Ethereum. They, like many others, however, are starting to understand the challenges of executing in the value field of code, which is muddy and mired to say the least–the DAO recursive command (hack?) being the most notable and disastrous example. I really like the social historical perspective, and it may very well be the start of the basis for a technologically-enabled hegemonic shift away from where we are now (identity capitalism?). We will see. I think it is 100% likely to democratize and disintermediate a host of things, the extent to which it does so for how we structure power may be a different story, and less susceptible to change.