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For the past decade, automation has been steadily transforming the way we do business.Companies use artificial intelligence (AI) to improve systems ranging from e-commerce to customer support. They deploy robots for rote physical tasks. Smart sensors linked to the Internet of things (IoT) are capable of tracking almost anything. That represents a huge step forward in automation. And yet there’s another leap to make: from automation t  oautonomy. You can create fully autonomous systems by linking the capabilities of AI, IoT, and robotics to blockchain technology. What’s changed is that cryptocurrencies allow us to process, store, and transfer economic value without human intervention. I call this technological revolution the Age of Autonomy.

As we move from automated to autonomous operations, businesses and organizations of all kinds will require a new kind of infrastructure—and that’s where blockchain comes in.

Blockchain first became known as the underlying technology that makes Bitcoin possible. Now blockchain is used to refer to decentralized electronic ledgers that use software algorithms to record transactions immutably, trust-minimized, and without requiring permission or authorization.   

Fundamentally, blockchain is a self-sustaining, peer-to-peer ledger technology for managing and recording transactions with no middleman. And blockchain is the key that will unlock the massive wealth-building potential of AI, IoT, and robotics.

Consider Henry Ford. He invented not only the assembly line, but also the factory where production could take place. So, a car factory is a classic example of production capital. Blockchain is the production capital of today. Blockchain provides the public infrastructure by which all the other technologies can converge.  

The Age of Autonomy will alter every aspect of how we produce goods and services. Throughout the globe, each industry, community, and government will begin building autonomous agents to produce work, generate value, then transfer and store value.

These actions will be created and enforced by software — agents and bots implementing smart contracts through crypto-networks. Robotics will perform rote physical tasks. The IoT will provide the sensors and networks to measure and communicate data. AI will provide the judgement, expertise, and evaluation within a closed system. And decentralized cryptocurrency platforms will provide movement across organizations via the smart contracts to govern and enforce the transfer and store of value from the work produced.

Let me walk you through an example. Imagine a farmer in the Midwest. She’s using precision devices to read data from sensors all over the farm (so she doesn’t have to do it manually), smart weeding robots (instead of chemical pesticides), and a network through which all the robots, sensors, and planting equipment can communicate.

Next, she implements AI agent software modules to help her turn all of the data into knowledge and brings in AI-based irrigation and weed management software.

She sets up a decentralized autonomous corporation (DAC), through which board members and decision makers set goals, thresholds, and parameters for the growing season ahead. Based on this year’s data and their planting history, they decide how many acres to plant with corn, beets, and wheat.

Under their new DAC, they set up a cryptocurrency account on an autonomous-contracts platform like Ethereum or Tezos. The DAC writes some custom autonomous contracts that will act on behalf of the DAC if certain conditions or events are triggered—without the need for human intervention. Now they are ready for the season. One of the “buying contracts” notices a 4% better deal for corn seeds from Canada, so it purchases the seeds with its cryptocurrency account and sends the request to the seed company.

During the season, the weather AI agent notices a forecast that’s going to produce serious flooding in the beet field, so the AI tells the irrigation equipment to stop watering the field until one of the soil sensors measures the correct water threshold. The DAC also has a “risk management” autonomous contract, which exists to help manage the grower’s financial risk throughout the season. If there’s a flood, it creates financial risk to the farm, so the autonomous contract looks on the commodities futures exchange to see what price they could get if they sold some corn and beet futures. This will lock in a certain price for a percentage of the crops, which helps them mitigate financial risk. This is all happening without human intervention. This is what the world will look like in the Age of Autonomy. And it’s not as far away as you think.

In the future, businesses without autonomous operations will not be able to compete with businesses that have them. We saw this in the last cycle – offline businesses, like Blockbuster, that didn’t adapt could not compete with their digital competition, like Netflix. Once this technological innovation reaches a tipping point, businesses around the world will rush to reinvent themselves.

If we were back in the 1990’s, wouldn’t you love to be able to invest not just in dot-com companies, but the actual Internet protocols like http and smtp that move all webpages and email? Making tiny fractions of a cent with every web page and email that moved? We couldn’t invest in protocols and base infrastructure like that back then, but we can in this new technological revolution. Business founders and investors who invest early in autonomous infrastructure like cryptocurrencies and smart contract platforms are poised to reap massive rewards.

Jake Ryan is the author of the upcoming book Crypto Asset Investing in the Age of Autonomy.

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