Blockchain Machines, Earth Beings and the Labour of Trust

by Larry Lohmann

first published 21 May 2019

The last 10 years have seen unprecedented efforts to automate whole new ranges of human and nonhuman activity: trust, recognition, identification, care, respect, translation and interpretation itself.

It may be helpful to look at these developments -- which include Bitcoin and blockchain -- in the light of 19th-century mechanization. Although the new tide of automation recruits technologies that have become available only in the 21st century, it is no less dependent on the living work of human and more-then-human beings. Nor is it any less prone to exhaust or "max out" that work, wreaking ecological destruction and necessitating the organization of new frontiers of extraction. The new mechanization is also entwined with some of the same fantasies and rituals that have animated industrial capitalism since its beginnings.

A powerpoint companion piece to this paper, "The Ecology of Trust Mechanization," can be downloaded in English and Spanish at

A shorter paper on overlapping issues (also in both English and Spanish) can be found at and at