Thomas Jefferson was enamored of the yeoman farmer. The pillar of democracy who sustained the republic by independent thinking and hard work. The idea of an independent citizen who had relative autonomy is more difficult to entertain nowadays. After all, most people are deeply enmeshed in the web of modern civilization and couldn’t live independently even for one week. The most poignant sight in disaster movies is always the empty supermarket, as soon as it is thoroughly looted there is no more food or modern life.
This could change significantly over the next decade, especially as the new energy matrix comes online and other technologies are fully developed. Solar and storage hold the promise of energy independence for the household. It would take more panels and storage than the optimal grid-connected setting, but it is totally feasible to have an isolated home that is energy independent in most latitudes. As we will see energy, in the form of electricity, is the basis for all the rest.
With electricity, you can have lighting, electronics, cooking, heating, and cooling. This forms the basis of current modern life. Each of those would require specialized equipment, but with that equipment, the home could be completely self-reliant.
On top of that, you would need water and sanitation. As we have seen in the New Energy Matrix Facts and Speculations water is also feasible without unduly burdening the power system, and that could also have water and organic waste recycling. Achieving a relatively circular management of materials and water will be increasingly important as we look to reduce our impact on earth
Next, we would go for the part that would be more alien for Jefferson: the computing, storage, and communications infrastructure. While huge datacenters seem to be the norm now, there is actually less and less reason to go for massive scale a. Many are heralding the return of “personal storage”. A cloud node with the requisite computing and storage power, along with radio connectivity capability in a mesh network style wouldn’t tax the energy capabilities of our self-reliant homestead much. A fiber or satellite link would take care of the connection with the outside world.
With electricity, cloud, and communications in place we would be able to add a number of very important amenities for modern life with the right electronics and cloud content:
- Education and entertainment by leveraging cloud storage and communications. We can think of the equivalent to OTT content consumption services, but with the contents stored in the homestead cloud. Storage costs are falling so quickly that the cost of having an almost limitless library of film, games, music, books, and educational content would be almost zero. You would need the electronics to consume such as screens, loudspeakers, and gaming consoles.
- Creative work could be performed from the homestead. Today an increasing array of professionals can work almost fully from home: writers, content creators in general, coders, customer support, inside sales, some healthcare professionals… With the right hardware and software, you can have the setting you need for your chosen profession. Collaboration tools will help you interact with your teammates when needed.
- Mobility through an array of electric vehicles, fully rechargeable in the homestead thanks to the electricity and cloud. These vehicles could have a substantial range and allow for both passenger and goods transport. It doesn’t need to be only cars and motorbikes. We can think also of drones and flying vehicles, completely autonomous and electric.
- Social interactions through messaging and transport to other homesteads or social settings. Many social interactions are now electronic, with more to come with Integrated Reality. The homestead would also allow transport through the mobility capability to other locations.
- Digital governance technologies would allow the homestead to participate politically and economically in the broader republic effectively at all levels. Each homestead would be running a full Blockchain node giving it monetary and voting sovereignty.
For real independence, we would still need to go beyond and leverage the surrounding environment with Integrated Reality (robots, IoT, and full sensing). This would be mostly for extracting, processing, and recycling needed resources:
- Food and supplements through precision automated farming. This would probably require more energy for self-driving tractors and irrigation, so we could have a separate industrial-scale solar panel and storage array.
- Basic materials mining through scanning and robotic miners. To be able to extract from the environment whatever materials are needed in the least invasive way possible. We could target the specific elements that could be reprocessed as needed.
- A healthcare station, in which automated stations can diagnose and treat basic illnesses. More serious conditions would probably still need hospital care. A great example of this is the Tricorder X Prize. Launched in 2012 and finished in 2017 it has awarded 2,5 million USD to two teams for creating a handheld device that can be used by a normal person to diagnose the twelve most common diseases.
- Security and surveillance, with the sensing mesh allowing a detailed view of what is happening, and reaction capabilities to natural or human-made disasters and threats.
- 3D Scanning and Printing capability to create new objects adapted to all needs, including basic ones like clothing or home decoration, but also more advanced ones such as the servicing of all the electronics. This would include the capability of actually duplicating all the homestead’s components. Here, the unsolved problem yet is how to deal with the different materials. Current 3D printing is very reliant on plastics and as such on oil. It would be critical to find an alternative material base and way to deal with complex fabrication such as electronics or robots.
This would create a really self-reliant and autonomous homestead. Humans could live independently of broader society in these settings for a long period of times and with almost no impact on the environment. Of course, we might choose to continue living in cities, I for one, prefer the hustle and bustle of a modern city (especially once we get rid of ICE vehicles). However, the self-reliant homestead would be open for those who prefer at least partial solitude.
It could also be used as a way to colonize other worlds, which apparently is Elon Musk’s main goal with all his technology developments. You can imagine these homesteads, with additional pressurization and air processing components, dotting the Moon or Mars.
Anything you would be missing in the autonomous homestead? Who would you take with you in a long self-reliant seclusion?