S07E21 of Connection Problem: Autonomous orgs, revisited

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Hi there,

Looks like in between all the chaos of our collapsing late-capitalist world order 2020, there are some quite hopeful news:

There are multiple COVID-19 vaccines about to go into production, including one by a Turkish-German second-generation immigrant researcher couple; The UK bans the sale of fossil fuel cars by 2030; electric car makers (and not just Tesla) top traditional car makers in market value. Ok now we’re drifting too far into car territory, and we don’t want to end up in Daimler’s Vision for the Future which (except for the windmills) looks like it’s straight out of the 1960s.

So, let’s make our own futures, shall we?

Onwards and upwards!


You’re receiving this because you signed up for this newsletter on tinyletter.com/pbihr or through my company’s website, thewavingcat.com. The Waving Cat is a boutique research and strategic advisory firm; I co-founded ThingsCon, a non-profit that explores responsible tech. To support my independent research & advocacy, why not join the SPECIAL PROJECTS membership? On Twitter, I’m @peterbihr. If you’d like to work with me or bounce ideas, let’s have a chat.


Brief updates from the engine room

ThingsCon’s annual RIOT Report (that’s short for State of Reponsible IoT) is undergoing final edits. Andrea Krajewski and I interviewed most of the contributors to the RIOT report and are turning it into the first season of a ThingsCon podcast called ThingsCon Stories – which should be propagating through the podcast directories as I’m typing this. So far there’s only a teaser/trailer, the interviews will be released starting over the coming weeks.

This is the first take on a ThingsCon podcast, and the interviews happened in a bit of a flash; really mostly over just two mornings. So there’s still room for improvement there, but we’re getting there.

Also, a fun fact: While uploading the teaser I noticed that 11 years before on the exact same day I had uploaded my very first podcast experiment. Then, in 2009, we stopped after two issues because we were convinced that we were too late to the game — there were simply too many podcasts out there already. Oh the silly price that we sometimes pay for having a radar finely attuned to the near future. Anyway, I’m very happy that this is happening!

ThingsCon Festival (Dec 7-11) registrations are filling up nicely, but please consider joining. It’s going to be a great group, but we’d like to send participants a physical thing upfront so time is of the essence.

I started a new membership program called SPECIAL PROJECTS as a way to support my independent work & activism. First project on my agenda is a book project: Responsible Tech – A Pragmatist’s Guide.

Co-wrote a piece with some collaborators over at HiiG about Open Hardware and its implications for policy makers, out soon. Will share links once I have them. Glad to be part of the advisory committee for Simply Secure’s identity refresh. What a fantastic community.

Unoffice Hours are still going: Click here to easily book a Zoom chat with me every Tuesday. Or ping me (by hitting reply) to discuss another time. I’ve found that many folks still seemed to hesitate until they’re actually in the call with me. Don’t be! This is for chats of all sorts: To discuss future projects, to bounce ideas — anything except sales calls are welcome. So far, I’ve enjoyed every single one of them. By the way, I’m aware the time zones are a lot more convenient if you’re in Europe or Asia than North America. If the times don’t work for you, just ping me! (If you read this via newsletter, just hit reply. Otherwise, you can find my details on the contact page.)


Autonomous orgs, revisited

Matt Webb wrote up some thoughts on self-driving corporations, meaning an autonomous or at least largely automated administrational backend for a company. Needless to say I’d give an arm and a leg to cut down on even the bit of bureaucracy I have to go through every month with both my company The Waving Cat and also with our non-profit, ThingsCon. (My accountant can probably attest to this; they have to catch a good chunk of any questions I might have at any given time.)

But also, his thoughts seem to tap right into the thinking behind some other projects this reminded me of:

The first is terra0: “terra0 is a prototype of a self-owned augmented forest.” An art project by UdK students from back in 2017, this is a fictional agricultural forest that would “run itself”, i.e. sell logging licenses for itself and accumulating capital. It’s ag tech design fiction. Personally I’d find it more interesting if the forest wasn’t an agricultural one but a “wild” forest: Not a capitalist forest but a regenerating one. But it’s interesting nonetheless — and apparently a real, and well-funded project is underway that’s based on this design fiction and aims at making forestry more transparent.

The second is Fairbike, “a concept for a decentralized, autonomous sharing model that could be a responsible alternative to the new wave of bike rentals.” Designed by my long time collaborators and friends over at The Incredible Machine, this came out of our shared ThingsCon research trip to Shenzhen back in 2016. Here, a share/rental bike network would be set up as a DAO (a Distributed Autonomous Organization) that could rent its own bikes out for profits, then pay for maintenance and acquire more bikes. It would, over time, proliferate rental bikes around the city that are cheap to rent and yet supported the local bike shop/maintenance economy.

Both project have a lot of blockchain baked into their concepts; this was around a peak of the blockchain hype after all. But there’s definitively something there. At the very least, we can probably automate away more of the bureaucratic drudgery of running small and mid-sized businesses. And instead, free us up to focus more on the human element, content and conversations.


Small bits & pieces

Mozilla’s Greenhouse Gas emissions baseline. Wish more companies started taking such a baseline and then started to knock off the biggest pollution points in their daily practice / The IPO of China’s fintech giant Ant is off. Cory Doctorow has some background. / Making Wild Cities: Usman Haque about participatory urban rewilding /


Currently reading: Attack Surface, Cory Doctorow


If you’d like to work with me or have a chat to explore collaborations, let’s chat! 


Who writes here? Peter Bihr explores how emerging technologies can have a positive social impact. At the core of his work is the mission to align emerging technologies and citizen empowerment. He works at the intersection of technology, governance, policy and social impact with foundations, public and private sector. He is the founder of The Waving Cat, a boutique research and strategic advisory firm. He co-founded ThingsCon, a non-profit that explores fair, responsible, and human-centric technologies. Peter was a Mozilla Fellow (2018-19) and an Edgeryders Fellow (2019). Baser in Berlin, he tweets at @peterbihr and blogs at thewavingcat.com. Interested in working together? Let’s have a chat.

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