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The (hopefully) coming 3-d fabricator revolutions - Synchronicity swirls and other foolishness

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March 22nd, 2007

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01:48 pm - The (hopefully) coming 3-d fabricator revolutions
This video on advances in computing and fabrication technology is absolutely stunning. The first 40% is interesting, but without being able to clearly see some of the diagrams, it is a bit opaque. I had however not known that work on devices communicating with one another was quite so advanced – very cool stuff. However, the section on the "Fab Labs" and the MIT class "How to Make Anything" was one of the most fascinating things I've seen in many months. My comments below will only really make sense to people who have watched this piece (which is only about 10 minutes long)

I've been hearing for a while that we will have the first home 3-D printers in no more than 5 years, and now I believe it. What I didn't fully understand was the likely social impact of such things. Every story and prediction I've read on home fabrication focused on either imitating luxury goods or functional personalization like clothes or shoes designed to perfectly fit a single individual.

Clearly, those are only a small part of the answer. The market-of-one personalization sounds marvelous and fascinating. There will be people with TV remotes designed to look like deep sea fish, all manner of exotic and bizarre clothing, and I'll have a collection of spaceship and alien action figures from all manner obscure media, including some of my own work, custom designed tableware, and clothing more unusual than what I have now. However, that's only part of what this will do. The potential for personal invention is truly vast. Dealing with the legal and financial implication of that is going to be fascinating and difficult. Off the cuff, my guess is that charging any form of royalties for user-created designs is insanely difficult, overly restrictive, and generally a bad idea. I can either see some form of flat fee payment or perhaps simply automatically making all designs public domain, which sounds like a fairly good idea.

Also, the implications for the 3rd world are immense. Combine lower cost mass produced fabricators and wonders like the $100 laptops, and the results start looking a bit like some of the golden age SF involving various unlikely world-changing inventions. In any case, the end-result is certain to transform society at least as much as the internet. From my work in technology and international development in grad school (I had a long, diverse, and somewhat checked grad school career), it became exceptionally clear to me that top-down attempts to solve most 3rd world technical problems were utterly doomed to failure. However, literally giving people the tools to figure out the solutions to their problems could be exactly what much of the world's inhabitants need to obtain the comfortable and secure joys of consumerism.

Of course, the fly in all of this ointment is raw materials. To truly make this work, what you would (at minimum) require is for most consumer goods to be made from materials recyclable in one of these fabricators. Obviously, any chips and similar items would need to be purchased, preferably in a form that allows them to be programmable for many purposes. However, the bulk of most of the items will be made from plastics, paper, composites and similar materials. If instead of having to purchase raw materials as feedstock for a fabricator, you could use your trash or scrounge someone else's trash, then the whole problem of recycling would largely solve itself, since people interesting in making stuff would do their own recycling. Obviously, the ultimate answer would be one of various form of nanotech resource extraction, but until then, recycling might do the trick.
Current Mood: excitedexcited

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