Note — Jul 11, 2021


Venkatesh Rao has been fiddling with a lighthouse concept for a while and “finally turned it into an acronym,” which he’s detailing here. From the bottom of the stack: Renewably powered, Electrically Driven, Additive-first manufacturing, Lithium-based batteries, Internet of things, Software-defined middleware, and Tensor-based computing. Despite what follows, quite a useful essay and I’ll likely be using REALIST from time to time.

Perhaps I’m too focused on externalities and societal impact and it’s not their place in the definition of a concept like this, but I’m finding it increasingly hard to fully accept such representations when there is very little inclusion of things like “does this need to exist?”, ethics, public good, impacts, and negative externalities. Perhaps those questions don’t belong in such a concept… but then again perhaps they are too often left for later and that’s part of the problems we face today?

As an engineer, if you aren’t thinking about how your thing can be carbon-neutral or even carbon-negative over its operational lifecycle from the first paper-napkin concept sketch, you aren’t doing your job right. […]

[T]ry and design physical things strategically around 3d printing capabilities, which has interesting benefits in terms of decentralization, repairability, modularity, user-empowerment, waste reduction, and so on. […]

This is where the software and energy revolutions meet. When software eats something in this layer, you get dematerialization benefits on the energy/carbon front, and programmability and flexibility on the software end. […]

The REALIST stack is how software is eating the hardware-based world of things, and preparing it for existence on a terra being terraformed by energy and material transitions.