What Was the Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO)?
One of the major features of digital currencies is that they are decentralized. This means they are not controlled by a single institution like a government or central bank, but instead are divided among a variety of computers, networks, and nodes. In many cases, virtual currencies make use of this decentralized status to attain levels of privacy and security that are typically unavailable to standard currencies and their transactions.
Inspired by the decentralization of cryptocurrencies, a group of developers came up with the idea for a decentralized autonomous organization, or DAO, in 2016.1
The DAO was an organization created by developers to automate decisions and facilitate cryptocurrency transactions.
In June 2016, due to programming errors and attack vectors, hackers attacked the DAO, accessing 3.6 million ETH.
Digital exchange currencies de-listed the DAO token in September 2016.
Understanding the Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO)
The DAO was an organization that was designed to be automated and decentralized. It acted as a form of venture capital fund, based on open-source code and without a typical management structure or board of directors. To be fully decentralized, the DAO was unaffiliated with any particular nation-state, though it made use of the ethereum network.
Why make an organization like the DAO? The developers of the DAO believed they could eliminate human error or manipulation of investor funds by placing decision-making power into the hands of an automated system and a crowdsourced process. Fueled by ether, the DAO was designed to allow investors to send money from anywhere in the world anonymously. The DAO would then provide those owners tokens, allowing them voting rights on possible projects.
The DAO launched in late April 2016 thanks to a month-long crowdsale of tokens that raised more than $150 million in funds.2 At the time, the launch was the largest crowdfunding fundraising campaign of all time.
Criticisms of the DAO
By May 2016, the DAO held a massive percentage of all ether tokens that had been issued up to that point (up to 14%, according to reporting by The Economist).3 At roughly the same time, however, a paper was published which addressed several potential security vulnerabilities, cautioning investors from voting on future investment projects until those issues had been resolved.
Later, in June 2016, hackers attacked the DAO based on these vulnerabilities. The hackers gained access to 3.6 million ETH, worth about $50 million at the time.4 This prompted a massive and contentious argument among DAO investors, with some individuals suggesting various ways of addressing the hack and others calling for the DAO to be permanently disbanded. This incident also figured prominently in the hard forking of ethereum that took place shortly thereafter.
According to IEEE Spectrum, the DAO was vulnerable to programming errors and attack vectors.5 The fact that the organization was charting new territory in terms of regulation and corporate law likely did not make the process any easier. The ramifications of the structure of the organization were potentially numerous: investors were concerned that they would be held liable for actions taken by the DAO as a broader organization.
The DAO operated in murky territory about whether or not it was selling securities, as well. Further, there were long-standing issues regarding the way that the DAO would function in the real world. Investors and contractors alike needed to convert ETH into fiat currencies, and this could have impacted the value of ether.
Following the contentious argument over the DAO’s future and the massive hacking incident of earlier in the summer, in September 2016, several prominent digital currency exchanges de-listed the DAO token, marking the effective end for the DAO as it was initially envisioned.67
In July 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued a report, which determined that the DAO sold securities in the form of tokens on the ethereum blockchain, violating portions of US securities law.8
Future of the DAO
What does the future hold for the DAO? The DAO as originally envisioned had not returned as of mid-2020. Nonetheless, interest in decentralized autonomous organizations as a broader group continues to grow. In 2021, The Maker Foundation, an icon in the crypto industry as the original champion of DAO, announced that it was officially turning operations over to MakerDAO (creator of the DAI stablecoin) and would dissolve by the end of the year.9
While there are many lingering concerns and potential issues regarding legality, security, and structure, some analysts and investors believe that this type of organization will eventually come to prominence, perhaps even replacing traditionally structured businesses.
The popular digital currency Dash is an example of a decentralized autonomous organization because of the way it is governed and the way its budgeting system is structured. It may only be a matter of time before additional DAOs enter the field.
Investing in cryptocurrencies and other Initial Coin Offerings (“ICOs”) is highly risky and speculative, and this article is not a recommendation by Investopedia or the writer to invest in cryptocurrencies or other ICOs. Since each individual’s situation is unique, a qualified professional should always be consulted before making any financial decisions. Investopedia makes no representations or warranties as to the accuracy or timeliness of the information contained herein. As of the date that this article was written, the author owns cryptocurrencies.
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