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Abstract

A programmable autonomous business is a novel kind of business built entirely in software that is functionally indistinguishable from a conventional business—acquiring customers, providing a product to those customers, and making an actual profit for doing so. The difference is that the autonomous business has no employees or managers guiding it; all operations are automated in software. While we know that autonomous businesses are possible, we do not understand why. To address this issue I analyze a basic autonomous business as a distributed cognitive system. I show that an autonomous business is composed of a rather mundane set of social practices whose performance is mediated by online technology. These social practices when performed "offline" have nothing to do with business. However, the synthesis of these technological-mediated social practices results in the emergence of an autonomous business. I discuss why mediating the performance of these social practices with online technologies allows them to instantiate business processes, and conclude by describing the practical applications of the findings and outlining areas for future research.

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