This article was originally written for and published at N-O-D-E (since removed) on May 20th, 2016. It has been posted here for safe keeping.
THE H E R M I C I T Y INTERVIEW: DRONES, DAO, & DELIVERABLE SOYLENT
READING TIME: 10-12 MINUTES
I recently spoke with John Dummett, the creator of H E R M I C I T Y, a project aiming to send packages of Soylent by drone to hermits living in remote areas who pay via smart contract through Ethereum.
John and I started exchanging messages on Reddit after I spotted a link he posted about his project in a decentralization-themed subreddit. Speaking with John, I could immediately pick up that he was a person who valued his privacy and his relationships. He was not, however, a shy person regarding his passions. Every question I posed was answered with an enthusiastic, complete explanation, welcome to assorted follow-ups and forgiving to my novice understanding of select technologies.
We waxed rhapsodic about the project and its bright potential. Often late at night for me in a dark room lit only by monitor glow, early afternoon for him the next day, I picked his brain and explored the radical concepts that seemed to ebb and flow organically without inhibition.
An 18-year-old Australian native, John already has professional work experience with block chain technology and a dream to change the world. He believes that the future we have been waiting for is now, and he doesn’t want anyone to miss it.
[N-] Could you explain what H E R M I C I T Y is for those who may not have heard of it?
[JD] H E R M I C I T Y is going to allow people to live alone. Up until very recent technological advancements, we were social creatures by necessity as living alone was costly, unsafe and uncomfortable. We’re going to make living alone accessible.
As for some concrete details, here is part of our general road-map and practical details section that will be revealed on the upcoming revamped website. We are going to develop a parent DAO to all the Hermicites. Members of the community will be able to submit proposals for a Hermicity to this DAO. They will use a standardised template that we will develop. The proposal will require information on where the Hermicity will be, how the land will be acquired (rent or buy, etc.), proof that the current custodian of that land is willing to have a Hermicity built on it, what type of micro-dwellings will be built on said land, how much they will cost, how many residencies to said Hermicity are up for grabs, the cost of the drones and other things to be delivered (Soylent, water, etc.)
From here, the total cost of the project is divided by the amount of residencies up for grabs and then there is a time-frame given for the project to be funded. Through multi-sig addresses we are going to build an auctioning system for people to bid on the residencies inside given Hermicities.
For instance, say I go and arrange for someone with a huge, beautiful and remote farm to let me have four hermits living on it for a cost of $20,000 a year. Then I find a company that can build a simple shack-like microdwelling for $20,000 each. (I haven’t done the modelling yet but [say] Soylent, water, other items for delivery cost $20,000 and then the drone itself is $10,000. Total cost to run the Hermicity for 1 year is $70,000. The cost of the residencies is $17,500.) I’d fill out the proposal form and submit it to the parent DAO.
The parent DAO then generates an array of ether addresses for this given proposal, of which the top 4 will be successful (as long as they each hold at least $17,500) and the rest of the addresses will be refunded. The ether funds then move from those addresses to begin paying for the Hermicity to be built and the winners get their residencies.
Unless the proposal for the relevant Hermicity has a plan of what to do with the extra funds (for instance you could say that if someone bids $25,000 then they can get a “better” microdwelling) then the extra funds will simply go to the parent DAO in order to fund the continued development of the entire project. Some of these excess funds could also be used for our team to sponsor people looking to create proposals.
We hope the community is passionate enough about this that they go out and try to create Hermicities all over the world. The new site revamp will include a forum section so we can start discussing what these first proposed Hermicities may look like.
It’s important to have this proposal process rather than me and my team making them all ourselves. By getting out of the way, the free market will ensue - we are not going to stop people from making any kind of proposal they like. Perhaps a Hermicity with more expensive residencies may allow for hot cooked meals to be drone-lifted to the hermits.
The reason I used Soylent as the example on the site is that it is nutritionally complete and cost effective, and [I] imagine that the first Hermicities will probably be as cost efficient and accessible as possible. Although there will probably eventually be more elaborate and fancy Hermicities like I described above, initially I think the market for Hermicities will mostly be asking for the most cost effective yet complete package as possible so Soylent’s nutritional balance and low cost seems perfect.
Furthermore, the same can be said for other parts of the Hermicity. Initial Hermicities may be hand-made shacks with limited features, whereas eventually you will see proper microdwellings with full blown heating and cooling, solar power, fast Internet connection, etc. It will be interesting to see at what comfort point the market starts at, though. The beauty is that what we are trying to build will allow other people to figure this out for us - [I] imagine we could have many Hermicities popping up all over the world before long.
[N-] How did you get the idea for H E R M I C I T Y?
[JD] For a long time I have been interested in making the hermit lifestyle more accessible and now that it looks like the technology is finally here to do it - for the first time in human history - it just made sense to execute this idea and try to get this done.
I’ve always been interested in the idea of living alone. This keen interest is really the result of a heap of things that have happened in my life. But really H E R M I C I T Y is at the intersection of a lot of really interesting technology and social movements. There is a lot of fascinating potential [for] this project when we think about it. What will [allow] people to easily spend time alone untapped? How low can we get the price of a residency, and how many people will be interested? If we no longer need each other to survive and people are satisfied living alone and comfortably with an Internet connection, what is the future of the nation state? (This last point is in my eyes the logical final state of Ethereum - technology autonomously running everything in a fashion that no human has to work or gets left behind.) Could the first settlement on Mars be a Hermicity?
Although I am sure we will be able to implement a lot of these ideas successfully - H E R M I C I T Y as a project is already satisfying the Ethereum community just as a thought piece that symbolizes what we are doing, what we value, and [what we] envision the future of the world could look like.
Outside of web development and design - I am an artist, writer and philosopher and I think this project reflects that.
[N-] Do you yourself have interest in living in solitude as a hermit? What advantages do you see with this lifestlye?
[JD] Human beings are social creatures - by necessity. For some of us, we are not social just by necessity, we are extroverts and enjoy each other’s company and being actively engaged with the people around us. Other people [are] only social by necessity, prefering to be alone and do not [enjoy] direct contact with other people.
The necessity part comes in because until very recently we have not had the technological capability to easily, comfortably and safely live alone. New technology makes the hermit lifestyle accessible.
The question Hermicity poses is, “how many people are interested in this now, and how many more people will be interested in this in the future?”
Almost every great thinker has spent much time alone. I know [that] the time I have spent alone has made me a wiser, more intelligent person. Perhaps by making [secclusion] more accessible we can unlock a lot of human potential that is standing idle at the moment, locked away in bodies that are too distracted by the other bodies around them and are therefore unable to look in and unlock their unique ideas and energy.
[N-] Where is H E R M I C I T Y in the development cycle? How far away would you say we are from seeing a deliverable?
[JD] Admittedly it’s still very early days, but I am working hard on the revamped site which will better explain what we are trying to do, how we will do it, and why it is important.
I have had a lot of people contacting me over the last week and will be looking to put together a proper team and road-map. Eventually I would like to work on this full time. Once the parent DAO has been developed along with the other technical framework and proposal template work completed, it will be up to the community we have built up to start delivering. Obviously we will be pretty instrumental in supporting them with this.
[N-] How many people are working on the project, what are their backgrounds?
[JD] At the moment we have three people working on the project. I am a front-end web developer and designer. We have another web developer and community manager who has extensive experience running events and managing communities. Finally, we have a cloud rapper and philosopher - we believe it is important to build a really optimistic and positive culture around our DAO because otherwise success will be much harder to attain. (Anything is possible, optimism and energy is what allows you to push harder and further.)
As I said before many more people have reached out. I will be contacting these people to try to build a small and efficient dev team. Thankfully I have been contacted by people with skills across a wide range of areas, most importantly in decentralised programming. We should be able to get that parent DAO up and running soon.
[N-] How did you get your start with blockchain technologies?
[JD] Last year I worked for one year with CoinJar, which is Australia’s largest bitcoin exchange. Working on the team there, we were constantly thinking about what to do next and a huge part of that is thinking about what’s possible using the blockchain.
The bitcoin blockchain and its potential is too limited, of course it’s always going to be amazing given that it was the first and it kicked started this whole movement- but Ethereum is superior in terms of technology and [the] core developer team so it’s where the best blockchain projects are going to happen, not bitcoin.
[N-] Tell me more about the technology, what are the advantages of adopting the DAO (decentralized autonomous organisations) and smart contracts? How will you interact with the drones?
[JD] Utilising Ethereum as the backbone of this project is so important, we couldn’t do this without Ethereum. DAOs offer interdependance - a perfect middle ground where individuals voluntarily interact with each other on terms that suit them, but still [tapping that] magic of when we work together. The beauty of DAOs is that they allow people to work together without compromising on their independence. Therefore, DAOs are the future - I believe a world run on DAOs is one that offers scalable order by allowing people to indirectly work together and to automate sharing of resources so that no one is left behind.
The parent DAO that I spoke of earlier with its world first actioning code will be a groundbreaker. The drone deliveries will be triggered by ether transactions as seen here -> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V_3rcP2Duv0
When people submit proposals to the parent DAO it will be up to perspective residents to look through the proposal and ensure that everything is up to scratch. If the proposal is successful the proposer will then build the Hermicity. We intend that we will provide DAPP (decentralized app) code to run the drone deliveries of Soylent (and other needs as specified in the proposal) in an autonomous fashion. Live by the DAO.
[N-] I’m wondering how this model would work with self-sufficiency. Would each hermit be beholden to whomever set up the Hermicity for a location, or could the actual inhabitants pool their resources on the drones/deliveries themselves? For example, could there be a situation where after you receive a delivery, you then charge the drone up for the next person, and then be rewarded for doing so automatically?
[JD] Each Hermicity will work differently depending on the proposal that was at the root of it being built. Some will be bare bones, others will be more sophisticated. It will be up to the proposers and the wants and needs of the market of hermits that develop.
I could tell you what I think will happen, but I would prefer to encourage the community to stay as open minded as possible. I’m looking forward to the different ideas that develop and what becomes de facto standards. I’m imagining there will be a competitive marketplace of Hermicity proposals.
[N-] Alot of people bring up how young you are? Do you find your age to be advantageous to working on this project?
[JD] Being young is crucial to the success of this project and that’s why I am a big fan of things like the Thiel Fellowship because they realize how important it is for young people with big ideas and a lot of energy (but lacking the right circumstance) to be able to have a crack.
It’s advantageous to be young because you generally have a more open mind and scope of possibility than older people in that you’ve had less time to develop prejudices and had less time to compromise on your own beliefs, etc. It’s important to start working really hard on these things now while I am young and not wait. When these projects and activities work out (which they do) and I progress, it allows me to keep being myself and to not stop compromising on my own ideas and beliefs.
I hope that either the community or movement around this project will grow large enough that I can be financially supported to work on this full time or that if that doesn’t happen, I will be able to get into a program like the Thiel Fellowship.
[N-] What are some of the biggest obstacles or barriers to entry you are facing right now? Are there any legalities you are worrying about with regards to operating drones?
[JD] The biggest barrier to entry is personal. I work full time so [I] don’t have as much time as I’d like to work on this, but hopefully these circumstances will change soon. In the meantime I am just working as hard as I can.
As far as legalities, by opening up the process so that anyone can propose a drone anywhere in the world, I envision that many teams of people will be working to get Hermicities set up all over the earth. Some jurisdictions will be easier to find arrangements with than others, but as I said before, large remote farms or other large privately owned lands would be a great starting spot I imagine. It will be interesting to see what proposals people come up with.
[N-] Will you be operating your own fleet of drones, or adopting a model like Uber/Lyft where you use or share time controlling drones owned by others?
[JD] Once again it’s simply up to the proposers. I imagine that for the sake of more secure deliveries it would be better for the drones to be owned by the DAO, if they have an autonomous solar/battery charging station, human interaction would be very rare and eventually completely unnecessary. [It] will be great to watch the proposers innovate in this area in particular.
[N-] Have you considered users besides hermits such as digital nomads? Any thought of a potential use for humanitarian aid?
[JD] There are many different potential use cases for this idea and the associated technology that will be developed. It will absolutely be up to the proposers to come up with the practicalities of executing these ideas. We will offer the technology and other framework based support for people to get started and then we will get out of their way.
[N-] How has feedback been so far since you have announced H E R M I C I T Y? Has anything surprised you?
[JD] The responses have been overwhelmingly positive and some of them really funny. I’ve had well over 100 responses now over email, and many people have inboxed via the HERMICITY Reddit account.
Vitalik’s (Co-Founder of Ethereum) tweet was really great, he got it.
His second in command also emailed me saying the concept was art, so he got it too which was great.
I haven’t received negative feedback, though there have been half a dozen or so emails from people who don’t get it.
The amount of people who want to help out is really high as well.
[N-] Do you currently have any specific roles on your team that need to be filled? How can people contribute?
[JD] We have been contacted by so many people (via http://offline.computer/hermicity), we are still trying to go though all the emails so we can start responding. Once we have a solid roadmap we can start advertising positions. There aren’t any major skill shortages at this [point], but I am looking forward to expanding the team when we get to that stage.
BY MIKE DANK (@FAMICOMAN)