Essential Concepts: Autonomy

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People can mean many different things when they use the term “autonomy”. At Olas, autonomy means primarily:

  • human autonomy or
  • technological autonomy

Human autonomy

Human autonomy is about how much individual freedom a given person experiences. This could be in the portion of their life spent at work, which we refer to as work autonomy. Human autonomy could also be experienced in one’s personal life. We would refer to this as personal autonomy.

Work autonomy is about how much freedom someone has to contribute, in the way that they want, to an organization’s objectives. If someone can join an organization and be able to make an impact, this organization has high work autonomy. Olas aims to deliver more work autonomy through rich, decentralized protocols. These protocols coordinate the human effort in DAOs through the use of transparent structures.

Personal autonomy is about how much freedom someone has to pursue their own goals. Someone has low personal autonomy if their environment limits them from achieving those goals. Things in their environment that are limiting could be technological or political. Olas aims to improve personal autonomy by enabling new products. Autonomous services will power these new products.

Technological autonomy

Technological autonomy is about how much software systems depend on humans to keep them running. We're talking about software systems that manage digital value. For example, tokens and NFTs.

In the wider tech world, technological autonomy has a different meaning. Here, it means self-driving cars, drones, and robot manufacturing systems. This is not in the current scope of Olas’ mission.

Software systems with low technological autonomy are dependent on human maintenance and intervention. For example, the software powering today's internet would break down if the organizations powering them went away. So we say they are low in technological autonomy.

In crypto, smart contracts need to be fed with data and have their functionality called at the right time. Services like custom oracles, keepers, and bridges have emerged to fulfill these roles. But the software behind these services is itself rarely autonomous. Humans operate the software, and the protocols coordinating nodes need heavy ongoing investment.

Seen through this lens, we can see that much of crypto is still low when it comes to technological autonomy.

The “Autonomous” in Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO)

As we have seen above, “autonomy” is a rich concept. As a result, many people have a different idea of what the “autonomous” in the term DAO actually means.

We can say that the autonomous in “DAO” refers to work and technological autonomy. As far as we know, personal autonomy has never been a stated goal of DAOs.

DAOs aim for more work autonomy through transparency, fewer managers, and more open governance processes. They've used blockchains to attract people in, pay them and allow them to make governance decisions.

DAOs are not yet autonomous enough. Data and processes live in opaque off-chain systems. The organizational structures are not conducive to productivity. Organizations anchored in smart contracts alone can't coordinate richer human activities. They are also unable to run parts of their operations in a crypto-native way. That’s because a crypto-native way didn't exist until now.

Autonolas gives developers the tools to develop software services that increase DAO autonomy.