ACTIVE SERVER: KOSCIUSZKO ST     DATE TIME: 2020-10-25 01:14:38.230902 PV VOLTAGE: 0.0     BATTERY LEVEL: 0.32     LOAD VOLTAGE: 11.98     LOAD CURRENT: 0.18

Solar Protocol

The first algorithm was made by the sun

Solar Protocol will be an experimental network of solar powered servers installed at different locations around the world. As the sun rises and sets, each server turns on and off as its solar panel goes into sunlight or darkness. When a request to the Solar Protocol website is made, traffic is directed to whichever server is enjoying the most sunlight at that moment. Different parts of this site are distributed across the network and become available at different times of the day, depending on which server is active.

The system directs traffic using the Domain Network Service (DNS) protocol, a decentralized system that resolves a URL to an IP address of a server. In short, DNS dictates the path between client and server. Typically high volume web services like Google or Facebook will configure the DNS to direct network traffic to different servers based on their response times which is ususally a proxy for the sending traffic to the server that is geographically closest. However on the Solar Protocol network, traffic is automatically directed to whichever server has the most solar energy available. The distribution of sunshine (and therefore energy) across the planet detirmines the path from client to server.

Natural intelligences

Solar Protocol reconfigures internet protocols with natural rather than artificial intelligence. Presently, much attention is focused on automating decisions based on logics derived from massive datasets, produced by systems of surveillance capitalism. Web platforms monitor our our every click, view and scroll and then use this data to make decisions about what content to show us next. Instead, on the Solar Protocol platform, decisions about what content is served will be automated with a logic produced by the sun’s position and the energy distribution across the network. The network operates with a natural intelligence that emerges from the intermittent dynamics of our shared environment.

Intelligences derived from digital surveillance and machine learning are only made possible in a society powered by cheap energy from fossil fuels. Different energy regimes produce different political possibilities and limitations1 and the current cultural and technological imagination is constrained by the availability of cheap fossil energy.

Other worlds are possible.2

Working with solar energy to power the servers of this network, means the website served must be kept small in size and therefore has to omit energy-intensive tracking technologies, foreclosing the possibility of online surveillance and the online business models that go with it.3 Solar power therefore encourages a faster, lighter internet that is customized to collective environmental conditions rather than individual user behavior. Solar Protocol seeks to create a space for exploring natural intelligence by reconfiguring internet protocols with the logic of the sun.

1. See Timothy Mitchell on the political consequences of different energy regimes in Carbon democracy: Political power in the age of oil. Verso Books (2011).

2. Anab Jain discusses more-than-human politics in a recent talk, On Critical Activism and Fungal Revolts (2020).

3. This approach was used by the Solar Powered Website published by Low Tech Magazine (2019). We have taken much inspiration from this prior work.

Get Involved

When we have completed the first phase of this project and have a small prototype network running reliably, we will be seeking additional host sites and collaborators around the world. We will send out solar server kit to several additional host sites in order to connect a community of people who are interested in exploring the possibilities of small scale, solar powered internet technologies and natural logics.

If you have a sunny rooftop and are interested in experimenting with us, please sign up to our TinyLetter here or below. We will send an email soliciting additional host sites for the project soon.

Research in Progress

Attribution

This is work in progress by Tega Brain, Alex Nathanson and Benedetta Piantella. It is a part of the Eyebeam Rapid Response for a Better Digital Future program.