So what the heck is an autonomous object
What is this community? How does it work?
This is an online community of sharable items that can be passed from person to person. Let’s say you’d like to build a deck, and you need a drill for your project. Instead of purchasing a drill and then having it sit in your garage forever more (most drills get used 15 minutes a year), you can query the community to see if anyone has a drill in your neighborhood. Then, when you’re done with your project, you can pass the drill along to the next person.
How do I find an item I need?
There’s two ways you can find an item you need. The first is to have a look on the map and see if you can find the item/object in your neighborhood. If you zoom in and move around the map, you’ll see that the list of items on the left automatically updates, making it easy to browse items in the area. The second way is to submit in a request to the community from the main page telling the type of item you’re looking for and a few details on why you need it.
How do I get an object?
You can either put in a general request to the community on the main page, or go to the object’s page and click the “request this object” button. If someone is able to meet your request then you’ll be introduced to each other by email, and it will be up to you to make arrangements and then the current “guardian” of the object can transfer the object to you, making you the new “guardian” of that object.
Object guardian? What’s that?
Every object in our community is “autonomous”, meaning it is not owned by anyone, but is a sharable good that is part of a commons. As a steward or guardian of that object, it’s your job to care for the object, ensure its safety, and help make it available to others. You a protector of the commons. When someone submits a request for an object, the decision on how to respond that request is completely up to you. Maybe the request is from a new member of the community and you’d like to meet with them in person first before making them the new guardian. Or perhaps they’re a friend of a friend and that’s good enough for you. Or they may be a brand new member of the community and you’re happy to put your trust in them to help them rise to the occasion. As a guardian you can handle your responsibility any way you see fit. Over time, community transactions will be shared and visible to others, allowing all of us to get a better sense of what practices work well (and which don’t). Transaction histories will also help build the reputations of our community members making trusted interactions amongst each other even easier.
Why Autonomous Objects?
Autonomous objects are objects with freedom: they can’t be owned because they are part of a commons. This is an important and deliberate choice, because while ownership and its assumptions have been very valuable for our society, these assumptions have also dismantled many a successful commons. We try and avoid that problem by ensuring the objects in our system have genuine autonomy. Every object even has its own web page and even a ‘bank account’ (more about that later). Autonomous objects are public goods that can be enjoyed, used and shared by anyone. But they also need kind-hearted people to help, care for, fund, and protect them too (a guardian). Anyone can help, and best of all, if you like an autonomous object enough to donate to it you can help it spawn new offspring. Once an autonomous object accumulates enough donations in its ‘bank account’ it will purchase new copies of itself (its children) to share with the world!
How is commons-based thinking different?
We are creating a scalable commons based on trust, honesty, integrity and respect. You are part of a community that recognizes the interdependence of the land, water, people, plants and animals on the planet. We are inseparable from these systems, and so we strive for balance.
What does ownership have to do with it?
Ownership laws are designed to foster the creation of private property. While there are many nuances with ownership law, the bulk of ownership practices can be summarized by these three core assumptions:
  1. If you can find something in nature you can take it and make it your own, provided that
  2. It was not already owned by someone else, and that
  3. You exclude others from its use.
These simple assumptions and practices are extremely scalable, and they provide the foundation for our modern economy. They have been so successful in fact, that we often forget that they are collectively held assumptions and beliefs. Ownership is a mental construct, not a physical property. Fostering a true sharing-economy requires us to revisit some of these assumptions. Land as private property is actually a relatively modern construct, in England, up until the 16th the commons was one of the dominant means of managing land. Commons-based systems worked quite well at smaller scales, but they were often “dismantled” by ownership-centric systems that happened to scale better. The problem of course is that ownership is wasteful. The very principle that requires you to “exclude others from its use” creates automatic barriers to sharing, and leads to an excess of consumption (like drills that only get used 15 minutes a year). Ownership notions also erode natural systems, creating a race-to-the-bottom to consume natural resources without balance. However, while ancient commons based systems had limits of scale, they also did not have today’s information sharing tools available to them. Today, these tools hold the potential to allow commons based systems to scale in ways that their ancestors could not. We now have an opportunity to forge scalable new commons-based systems.
How do I help?
First, care for the autonomous objects you find – think of yourself as a steward or guardian that looks out for the autonomous objects under your care. That means protecting them and ensure they’re being used and enjoyed frequently. Try not to break them, or lose them, and if you have the chance the repair or improve them please do so! Second, autonomous objects like to be used and enjoyed, so if you’re not using them frequently, please pass them along! It’s best to pass them from hand to hand, ideally to someone you know and trust. But these objects are autonomous, so you can also release them and let them “run free” if you wish too. But please do so responsibly: depositing in a thoughtful location along with a nice personal note can go a long way to ensuring the safety and well being of the autonomous objects that you come across. Third, there is nothing that autonomous objects like better than to reproduce, and they can’t do that without your donations. Donations ensure that their autonomous offspring will bring usefulness and joy to others. Don’t let them be the last of their kind!
An object with a ‘bank account’, how does that work?
You’re probably asking yourself, ‘why does a tool, or a book, or any other autonomous object need a bank account?’ The answer is that resources are key to both their survival (e.g. they can pay for services to support safety or well being), and their ability to produce offspring. Books, tools, or even robots, have a difficult time making an exact copy of themselves on their own… but if they have a bank account they can buy a copy of themselves and ‘reproduce’ that way instead. The challenge is that today’s bankers have a dim view of autonomous objects: they’re not keen to provide bank accounts to books and bicycles…. and even if they were, our autonomous friends would likely be overcome by monthly banking expenses or service fees. Instead, we use modern blockchain technologies to give every object an account that can store digital currency for free in perpetuity. Ethereum is a good choice because it not only allows the store of value, but it also permits the autonomous execution of what are called “smart contracts” and even Decentralized Autonomous Organizations which are an ideal enabler for autonomous objects. For those with an interest in these topics, we are working on a blockchain-based Title system that will allow our autonomous objects to be truly self-owned via the use of ERC-721 tokens. For now, each object gets a unique account ID. Here’s the account ID of a power bar for example: 0x004c8de58a08c0f0955b58709e9fded7e18ca831 You can also lookup any account ID online at sites like This allows anyone to make a donation to an object they wish to support.
What kind of property is an autonomous object?
Autonomous objects are actually not property at all, they are autonomous entities with their own rights and access to resources. Unfortunately, today’s private property rights more or less insist that every object ought to have a rightful owner. Any ‘unowned’ object is either considered a natural object (like a gold nugget or pinecone) or an abandoned object; and both are up for grabs, a claim of ownership by anyone who ‘finds’ them. Autonomous objects reject that premise: instead, they are objects bestowed with autonomy. If you bestow autonomy onto an object you own, we would call you a patron, the person who gives birth to an autonomous object. It is a useful alternative to conventional property rights. If alternative property rights seem a little awkward or unfamiliar, it’s because they have been forgotten. Private property is an invented social construct – an extremely useful one, but definitely not the only game in town. Other concepts like common property rights used to be much more widespread… at periods in history where there was more land than people, ownership rights that excluded use by others didn’t make sense. People have enjoyed the shared benefits of common land and property for thousands of years. While the “sharing economy” is treated like a modern invention, oddly, it’s an opportunity that is largely an artifact of private property rights themselves: exclusive ownership of objects that are infrequently used. Private property rights create other problems too. The idea that natural objects can simply be claimed when ‘found’ is at the heart of issues like overfishing for example. But thankfully there’s a lot of innovative to draw upon. Just as constructs like CopyLeft or Creative Commons have been a great way to breathe new life and rights into digital property, autonomous objects represent a wonderful breath of fresh air for physical objects too. And while today, many autonomous objects are ‘non thinking’ tools, materials, and physical goods, in the future, intelligent software and robotics will increasingly give autonomous objects the ability to think, act, move and reason on their own as well. We also hope to include many animals, plants, and natural resources as autonomous living objects too.
How does donating work?
An autonomous object has its own ‘bank account’: an Ethereum account that can hold digital currency. With enough donations an object can ‘reproduce’ by buying additional copies of itself. There are two ways to donate:
  1. Donate via your Ethereum account.
  2. Send funds via PayPal. We’re happy to assist you to make a donation to this object via PayPal payment instead. Just email for instructions, and we’ll convert and move a donation to the chosen object’s Ethereum account on your behalf.
Last, if you don’t have an Ethereum account, but would like one, here’s a few links/options to get you started:
How is my information/profile used?
We wish to preserve the privacy of community members while at the same time recognizing that information sharing is key to a sustainable and scalable commons. So with that in mind, here’s a few of our key information handling practices:
  • It’s important to know where users (and objects) in the system are located. This is how we plot them on a map. However, instead of using your address (specific and private) we use a postal code instead, along with some added randomization, to plot each object on a map. That affords a bit of privacy for your location.
  • Several types of system transactions will require introductions and sharing of contact information, we will try and be transparent about what gets disclosed and ask your permission for this first (for example when you request an object we try to let you know before we introduce you to its guardian).
  • Our site administrators and developers have access to your contact information in order to help support/service the community and help you with your accounts and transactions. Over time these administrative roles can become more specialized allowing us to further limit access to information.
  • We do not sell your data.
  • We will try to share system transactions with others in the community in order to improve community effectiveness, and allow reputational histories to be built based upon community interactions. Initially, we will share information such as your time to respond to requests or transfers, how long you have been registered, as well as statistics on items (donations, guardianship, and number of requests/transfers). We have a lot more work to do here, but the community should be involved in the decision about what gets shared and how.
  • We like the ability for community members to share information about their interactions with others (ratings, comments etc). We don’t have these features (yet), but thoughtfully implemented, they can be helpful for fostering trusted interactions.
Who are we, why did we start this?
While Good Robot is a for-profit company, our founders have had a long-standing interest in online communities and sharing systems, including a ride-sharing system called ecoride, started in 1999 by Good Robot founder Alan Majer (making it one of the first electronic sharing systems on the planet). Recently Alan became concerned with some of the directions the world (and technology in particular) seems to be headed, as well as what some of the root causes might be. Alan would like to see a better future for our children, and he realized that this sentiment is a common one. He believes this community can be part of that change, and that by sharing together we can make a difference.
What are the ownership and governance plans for this community?
One of the challenges with sharing communities is that misalignment can occur between the owners of a sharing platform and the community members that use it. As a community grows, the power shifts to platform owners, and it can be tempting to focus more on wringing more profits out of the community instead of serving it. For a community like ours that is focused on overcoming problems of ownership and creating public goods, private ownership of this platform by a single company (Good Robot is a privately held corporation) is inconsistent with our long-term goals. For that reason, we are committed to creating a governance system that is shared with the community itself. More discussion is needed to determine what form this will take (though it’s very likely to use blockchain technology since it’s particularly well-suited to this purpose), but our goal is to ensure that everyone’s community contributions (financial or otherwise) are reflected in the influence they hold within the community governance structure. In a model like that, Good Robot’s contributions to this community will be just one of many that will be on par with those made by other community members.
What are your growth and expansion plans?
We have three main priorities (in chronological order):
  1. Achieve a critical mass of users. Network effects mean that sharing only becomes useful if there are a sufficient number of local users that make sharing worthwhile. So getting our first few thousand registered users in specific locations is key.
  2. Creating systems for trusted sharing. Our sharing systems will depend on creating scalable communities of trusted users. This trust occurs naturally in communities where everyone knows each other. But creating that kind of community in dense urban networks will be an interesting challenge. However, we plan to use distributed decision-making, reputation systems, transaction histories, identity, and Internet-of-things devices to scale trust in ways that have never been possible before.
  3. Achieve scale and improve governance. Once our model has been proven in a handful of locations, we will begin scaling to new ones, achieving critical mass in each new market/location as we go. We will also implement a distributed governance structure that reflects community contributions before we begin serious scaling efforts.
Why are they called autonomous objects?
While the word autonomous is most commonly referred to today when describing objects and vehicles that can drive themselves (i.e. autonomous vehicles) the word autonomous in fact has a number of related meanings. In the context of this sharing community the word autonomous is referring to the fact that these shared objects exist independently without a single owner and thus can be shared and maintained more easily in a trusted network.