January 15, 2017

The Machine

On our collective efforts to save ourselves. Part 2 - A Solution We Can Control

This is part two in a two-part post. If you want to better understand the motivations behind this post, please read Part 1: Utopia or Dystopia - Choose one

I have also launched a website to talk more about these ideas. Please visit reboot.love to join in on the discussion!

The Idea

I want to imagine something like a fantasy. A thought experiment.

Think of a big empty space in the universe with nothing in it.

Add a group of 40 people, standing on a piece of flat desert land. Add in a few buildings, a central road, and a bit of grass. Maybe it's like a town in the Western USA in the 1890's. Maybe it's in Japan and they have a waterfall too. Maybe they're in a Nordic village or a plain in Africa. Maybe it's Ohio in the 1950's and there's a milkman. Maybe they're just outside of Phoenix, Arizona in present day.

But there's a group of people who live together and they have houses and a small town. They have computers and internet access but they have no cars.

And then they have The Machine.

The Machine produces an abundance of useful goods for the community members. Community members can request a wide variety of goods from the machine and after some amount of time the machine will deposit those goods in a holding area to be retrieved by the users.

Remember, we're imagining this. It can be fun and useful to imagine things that aren't real, so we can talk about how life would be if things were different.

Here is a list of some of the things the machine can produce:

Bread
Milk
Carrots
Celery
Pancakes
Salads
Nails
Fabric
Wrenches
Pencils
Paints
Paintbrushes
Shoes
Tablet Computers
LED Lights
Batteries
Wires
Sunglasses
Headphones
Solar Panels
Doorknobs
Hoses
Wood Saws
Replacement parts for The Machine

Any many more items.

In order to operate the machine, the residents need to supply the machine with some basic resources. Water is critical. They also need to supply the machine with all of their garbage and other waste, as well as a supply of energy.

The residents use a small array of solar panels to feed the machine energy. It has large internal batteries and can operate for weeks with no power. But the solar panels keep it topped off.

They also have an underground spring to supply it with water.

They started the machine's operation by filling it with ash, soil, and plant waste from the area. Before long it was producing tools, construction supplies, and food. They used those supplies to expand the town from a small outpost to a thriving village.

The Machine supplies everything any of the residents need for survival.

The village is full or art. Many of the residents are artists. Some of the artists sell their art to people in other towns.

Some residents are programmers, and work online occasionally for income. Or they contribute to non profit software projects for free.

Some of the residents design improvements for the machine.

Plans for the machine are freely available online, and many groups of people online design improvements for the machine.

A nearby corporation constructed this machine 15 years ago, and the residents bought it with their own money. Because plans for the machine are freely available, they had several choices of manufacturers, all with slightly different options. This machine they have is the most common design variant, and there are many modifications for it available. Some compact machines do not include the components necessary to make computers or tools - those machines only produce food and cloth. Some machines have provisions to make larger items like cars, but they are much more expensive.

Let's collectively refer to this type of machine as the Machine, with a capital M. We can refer to them collectively as Machines. Other towns in the region exist and also have a Machine. In general every person in the broader geographical region has a Machine they can use to supply them with what they need.

Our imagined villagers have significant freedom. They don't have to report to work in the morning, though a few choose to. Many of them work, but it's on their own time. There is no crime, because the residents know each other, have what they need, and do not wish to steal important rare items from their community members.

There is no broader government with any power over them. They ask nothing of anyone outside their village aside from peace, and so no one but a bully can exercise power over them. But if a bully wanted to cause them problems, other villages in the region would be likely to help defend them. They have procedures for defense from physical threats, but do not expect to need them.

The Machine was created by people with a stake in the development of the Machine. At first a corporation was formed that funded the development of the Machine with sales of early prototypes of the Machine. Once functional versions of The Machine became available, other corporations better at manufacturing gained more success and the original group created a non profit foundation to continue development.

It was always envisioned as an open source project. The plan has always been to produce machines for survival that are 100% owned by the individuals who purchased them. The useful service the manufacturers provide is in the collection and assembly of all the necessary components into one functional, tested Machine. Some manufacturers also provide support services, but most Machines are pretty low maintenance.

On Constructing The Machine

So I want you to imagine that machine. I want to say a few things about it.

I believe it is possible to construct such a machine, or something functionally similar.

I believe that within 50 years a machine with at least part of that functionality is possible to construct and manufacture on a mass scale.

I am very interested in finding others who believe this and want to help make the machine a reality.

I have purchased a domain to host discussion of this machine, but have not yet started a site for it.

I have many projects and responsibilities, but over the next 20 years I would like to work with others to attempt to construct early versions of the Machine.

I will contribute my time and a portion of my income to fund the development of the machine.

I believe such a machine is critical to free mankind from exploitation.

If enough people agree with all this, we can build the Machine. No cooperation from governments or others is required.

Funding The Machine

Now I will talk a little about how I think the development of such a machine could be funded.

First, there is great wealth available in donations, grants, and other funds like this. If a group was savvy enough to research grant proposals and draw in funding of this type, a great deal of work could be accomplished.

There is also crowd funded donations. Kickstarter, Patreon, and others. Members of the development project could be funded on Patreon. If someone is already working full time for survival, Patreon can help provide a few hundred dollars a month extra to encourage talented people to keep working on the Machine in their spare time.

Certainly too, a normal business model of producing machines to sell to the public or selling the goods produced by the machine can be a way to fund development once early versions of the Machine's components become available.

I envision the machine to be made up of many smaller machines or modules. One module might grow and process hemp as a source of strong fibers for fabric and construction. This smaller Machine or module could perhaps be produced by a well funded effort in ten years time, and be used to start a viable company that earns money selling these machines.

If significant profit can be generated by producing modules for these machines, it might be possible to fund a massive scale corporation. SpaceX with a few billion dollars has been able to produce a fantastically complex rocket system. It might be true that a final Machine would cost $60 million and be the size of a building. But SpaceX has shown that this type of massive scale development is still very possible in a relatively short amount of time for even one private company.

Certainly, I am more imagining a machine that costs under $1 million, or $33k per person for 30 people to share. With a few decades of constant work on the design by a few hundred dedicated contributors, such a machine should in principle be possible to construct.

It will take many contributors to plan how this can be done. Business people, marketers, engineers, writers, machinists, fabricators, and investors will be required.

But it is something I see as worth the effort.

For now, let this writing serve as my first attempt to communicate what The Machine is. In the future I would like to put together a mixed media presentation that includes a website with artists renditions, diagrams, presentations, and other information that can more effectively, concisely, and completely convey the concept of the Machine and its development project.

Some Questions

I think we should be asking ourselves a lot of questions about The Machine. Here is a small list of questions I have.

Is it really possible to build anything like this?
What can we realistically expect a machine like this to be able to produce if it was constructed in 20 years?
What kind of a life would that afford to the residents?
How can we fund the development of such a machine?
Does it even make sense to try to do so?
What will happen if some people have The Machine and some people don't? Will that inequality create problems?
How do we expect the residents to get medical care?
Does the machine create the materials necessary for medical care?
What is the system architecture of a Machine?
What are the various modules the Machine should have?
How do they interconnect?
How do residents support the Machine?

I'm sure you have questions of your own, and I'd like to hear them as well as possible answers. For now try to think about The Machine, and contact me to let me know you're thinking about it. In time, I hope we have a place to record our discussions.

Contact Me

If you want to talk with me directly about The Machine, please email me at tlalexander@gmail.com.

See also the discussion of this post on Reddit.
And the discussion on Hacker News.

And don't forget to visit the companion website reboot.love to join in on the discussion!