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4 Aug, 2015 20:37

Soylent 2.0 release, founder's revelations met with uproarious ridicule online

Soylent 2.0 release, founder's revelations met with uproarious ridicule online

An updated version of the "non-food food" product Soylent is billed as a nutrition-packed beverage with a year of shelf life. However, the release of futuristic "grey goo" was overshadowed by founder Rob Rhinehart's description of his ascetic lifestyle.

Announced on Monday, Soylent 2.0 is a liquid food product containing 400 kilocalories per bottle that is designed to provide full nutritional needs while minimizing food preparation time. The concept developed by Rhinehart was borne out of "recognizing the disproportionate amount of time and money they spent creating nutritionally complete meals."

Starting in October, customers will be able to purchase monthly subscriptions and have 12 to 144 recyclable bottles of Soylent shipped anywhere in the United States and Canada.

Formerly available only in powder form, Soylent is made of soy protein, the disaccharide isomaltulose, several "essential micronutrients," and algal oil, the ingredient on which Soylent creator Rhinehart is basing the product's future.

Right now, the algal oil -- grown by the biotech company Solazyme -- is responsible for 20 percent of Soylent's total calories.

Rhinehart has said that he would eventually like Soylent to be made purely of a kind of algae superorganism to source the product's carbohydrates, protein, and lipids.

"Next the focus is on protein," Rhinehart told Motherboard of his plans for algal production. "I see no reason why we can't get to total single cell synthesis within a few years.

"In the interest of building a sustainable business to fund our research we've been focused primarily on product improvements and new products, like the launch today, but I've also worked on setting up infrastructure including lab building and recruiting and drawn up a roadmap for reaching the goal of cell synthesis, starting with protein," Rhinehart added. "This process has two modules: one strain engineering to develop and optimize the organism that produces, the other bioreactor engineering to make an ideal growth environment for the strain(s)."

Rhinehart guessed that a 100,000-square foot warehouse could eventually produce enough of his algae to feed the entirety of Los Angeles.

"In the future Soylent may be made in modular, somewhat centralized photobioreactor facilities," he said.

If Soylent -- a product named after the 1973 science-fiction film 'Soylent Green,' starring Charlton Heston, in which the eponymous food product in the film is actually made of people -- wasn't controversial enough, Rhineland took to his blog to unveil more of his personal side and how Soylent fits in with his utopian -- or some might say dystopian -- view of the future.

In the post, Rhinehart explained how he had gotten rid of his "expensive and dirty" kitchen and his refrigerator, eliminating "a panoply of expensive tools and rotting ingredients I would need to spend an unconscionable amount of time sourcing, preparing and cleaning." Relying on Soylent allows him to avoid going to the grocery store, "a multi-sensory living nightmare," he said. Cooking, not to mention driving cars, are actions that take up too much time and resources to continue, he wrote.

"Let’s automate them already so we can focus on art, and science, and exploration. Food can be art, and driving can be exploration, but it’s mostly manufacturing and commuting. I don’t miss them."

As for clothing, Rhinehart said he orders new outfits and donates old ones in order to avoid laundry.

"I enjoy doing laundry about as much as doing dishes," he wrote. "I get my clothing custom made in China for prices you would not believe and have new ones regularly shipped to me. Shipping is a problem. I wish container ships had nuclear engines but it’s still much more efficient and convenient than retail. Thanks to synthetic fabrics it takes less water to make my clothes than it would to wash them, and I donate my used garments."

Critics took to social media to roundly mock Rhinehart, saying the software developer had "all the hallmarks of a cult leader," was "insane," that "Soylent is mental illness as a service," that Rhinehart was "someone so disconnected from reality that he might as well be hooked into an Oculus Rift 24/7, bathing in a bath of temperature controlled Soylent," that his lifestyle is a "horrible techno-libertarian fantasy," that his blog post described a "cultish rich-white-boy brand of futurism," and that Soylent was"like Patrick Bateman [the deranged main character of 'American Psycho'] stumbled on a decent idea & mad investors let him market it."

Yet Rhinehart and Soylent weren't only ridiculed.

"I'll admit it, ‪@robrhinehart‬'s anti-kitchen, anti-laundry, pro-‪@soylent‬ screed got to me a little," wrote Justin Fox, columnist for Bloomberg Views.