Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Monday, June 09, 2014

On Solar Street

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot, "Lying for Robot Jesus Ltd," a handle that seems rather crafted to please, directed my attention to a debunking video of the technofix superstars in a day -- and probably for a day -- Julie and Scott Brusaw, of "Solar Roadways" fame(-for now). The Brusaws have made a few viral promotional videos and a few million in a minute on indigogo and have gotten a usually breathless, usually content-less paragraph of cheerleading on each of the tech-talk outlets in consequence.

Long time readers of futurology will recall that the genre devoted more than a generation to the proposals either that the roads would roll or that they would be eschewed altogether for personal aircraft (whether ruggedly individualistic jet-packs or souped-up heli-jets for the low-T set), but know the loose talk turned to solar roads when futurology took its irrationally exuberant neoliberal turn to the Long Boom (Bust). I do believe none other than Eric Drexler promised diamondoidal solar-paneling for our dumb-paved surfaces along with his crystalline engines and desktop topsoil into chocolate sundaes nanofactories way back in Engines of Creation. Although the Brusaws are not claiming their solar soaking roadways will self-repair by recourse to perfectly-controlled all-temperature self-replicating programmable nanofoglets, it is worth noting that their notion has a long futurological pedigree.

About the half-hour debunking vid, "Lying for Robot Jesus Ltd," summarizes and crows: "Another libertechbrotarian dream destroyed by a blaspheming Luddite. Long but entertaining: link."

Are they libertechbrotarians? I haven't found any anti-gov/gimme-gov agitprop among the promotional materials, nor do the Brusaws come off as entitled assholes, particularly, though I will grant I haven't dug deep into their history or associations. If anything, they seem a bit crunchy and wacky. I quite agree that the hype has gotten well out ahead of any actual, er, deliverables here, but quite a lot of the debunking video seems to me to be mistaking snark for science as loosely as the Brusaws' amateur theatricals presently seem to be mistaking science for sales pitching. I can't say that the trying-too-hard John Oliver-mode Britishisms-are-always-witticisms-amiright narration made a friend of me, either. (Reader "Esebian" subsequently directed my attention to another of this fellow's oh so delightful debunkings entitled, "Why Feminism Poisons Everything" -- how very charming!)

I find more amusing and more specifically futurological the herdlike technofix consumer fandom machineries of the gee-whiz pop-tech press in response to this as-yet more-vaporware-than-not proposal, but the project itself feels rather more like loopy garage-inventor Americana to me. I don't doubt pale male techcrunchers and disruptors and meme-hustlers would just lurve to profitably and effortlessly leapfrog eco-catastrophe with a techno-fix that also keeps car culture and saucer-eyed consumerism and celebrity-CEO media-fluffing perfectly intact, but I'm afraid tackling climate catastrophe will actually require grown ups actually paying for things and behaving responsibly -- oh noes! I'm not entirely sure I think the Solar Roadways proposal as of now is fraudulent rather than simply facile, nor do I think the concept at any rate has nowhere at all to go. Certainly the Brusaws' sales pitch is rhetorically handwavy but it is hardly transhumanoid or superlative (in the senses I critique) in its contours.


Dale Carrico said...

"Lying for Robot Jesus Ltd." posted this comment in the Moot in which the original exchange took place from which I developed this post, and I am adding it here as well so that it doesn't get lost in the shuffle:

"Are they libertechbrotarians?"

The "inventors"? Not necessarily. Part starry-eyed futurologists, part well-meaning hippies, part good ol' scammers, perhaps?

But the hyped, salivating, gullible "investors"? Sure. Aren't those people being seduced by the same type of techno-fix peddling your typical transhumanoids have to offer?

You probably haven't watched the whole vid, because you are a busy man, but it goes on to point the utopianism and techno-fixation out in detail.

I hope you are not going easy on this """project""" just because the "artists" appear to be leftist on the surface (can women be libertechbrotarians too, I wonder?). Why do I have a feeling that if it was Dvorsky selling such an idea at io9 you would be posting (well-deserved) ridicule? Would I be wrong?

"As a general rule, I take everything a specific person says" Personally I judge each argument on its own merits.

jollyspaniard said...

I was intrigued for the first few seconds thinking they'd come up with photovoltaic asphalt or something revolutionary. My heart sank when I saw the pictures of the tunnels underneath the roads full of IT equipment and the narrator said "solar freaking roadways!".

I think for most folks are buying into it because they want a magic solution to emerge so they can't stop worrying about the future. They don't know the providence of what they see in their facebook feed, it's usually from a friend so they are often prone to trust it. A lot of folks have yet to grok how abysmal the information they're getting from their Facebook feed is. They will eventually though, I suspect it will the butt of many a joke before too long.