Plantoids are robots or similar synthetic organisms designed to look, act and even grow like plants.
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Created by Primavera De Filippi, this particular species of Plantoid utilises the artistic medium to illustrate the inner workings of decentralised autonomous organisations (DAOs), so that people can better understand the potential benefits and challenges of this powerful, emergent technology.
The goal of the Plantoid is to illustrate one of the most revolutionary – and yet still unexplored – aspects of blockchain technology. It illustrates the ability to create 'blockchain-based lifeforms', i.e. algorithmic entities that are (1) autonomous, (2) self-sustainable, and (3) capable of reproducing themselves, through a combination of blockchain-based code and human interactions.

De Filippi's Plantoid is a hybrid, 'blockchain-based life form' that has both a physical and digital form. Its physical form is an electro-mechanical device welded from recycled materials that simulates the appearance of a plant. It is placed in a public space for humans to interact with and, in some cases, many respond with dance and music to certain stimuli. Plantoid's digital form (otherwise thought of as its 'soul') comprises of software that 'lives' on the Ethereum blockchain network.
Like every other life form, the main function of the Plantoid is to reproduce itself. The affordances of blockchain-based code, in combination with human interaction, makes Plantoid capable of doing this. Human interaction with Plantoid comes namely in the form of 'feeding' them cryptocurrencies. When Plantoid collects a certain amount of currency, the reproduction process is triggered, in which Plantoid looks for a 'mate' (a human) to create for it another physical, metal form.
Each Plantoid functions according to a system of predetermined rules — such as who it can interact with and how much money is needed to reproduce itself — built into its software, The software is autonomous, in that it is executed in a distributed manner by all nodes participating to support the underlying blockchain network. Also, because of the properties of a blockchain, once deployed, the code cannot be altered or shut down by any single party. This ensures consistency across Plantoid and its descendants, despite potential difference in their physical forms that emerge during reproduction.

The benefit of blockchain technology is that all code has a 'guarantee of execution', meaning that a Plantoid cannot deviate from this system of rules. These rules also afford people who send money to Plantoid the opportunity to participate in the decision-making process behind the reproduction of Plantoid.
As such, every Plantoid operates as an autonomous entity that does not need to respond to anyone, not even its original creator. Indeed, Plantoids are both independent and self-sufficient. Once they have been created and deployed into the world, they no longer need nor heed their creators. Furthermore, because Plantoids ultimately own themselves, they also cannot be purchased or owned by anyone.

Primavera De Filippi is a legal scholar, Internet activist and artist, whose work focuses on the blockchain, peer production communities and copyright law. She is a permanent researcher at the CNRS and Faculty Associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University

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