“Technology changes society” is a truism but it is always worth asking “how?” At last night’s talk to the Okanagan Developer Group I used my trip to MakerHaus last February as a jumping off point to explore this question in light of recent advancements in the Maker Movement.
MakerHaus (see my photos here) is a symbol of the democratization of manufacturing. Historically, putting the means of production into the hands of the people has wrought massive changes on society. Digital fabrication and personal manufacturing technologies like 3D printers, CNC machines and laser cutters are the latest iteration of this pattern. To paraphrase Chris Anderson, in the 1980s the Desktop Publishing revolution gave us the PRINT button and changed everything; in the 90s the internet revolution gave us the PUBLISH button and changed everything; now our computers are getting a MAKE button, and it will and change everything.
My talk at the Okanagan Developer Group focused on three dynamics: better tools, better products and the evolution of manufacturing. “Making” is not new. Humans have 200,000 years of evolutionary history as makers. The difference this time round is the new community of makers: typically digital creatives. These people are good at manipulating bits, and now have the power to turn bits into atoms. 30 years of computing heritage is disrupting 200,000 years of traditional making. We are already seeing exaptations from the digital into the physical world. The new makers and their new tools will lead to better products. It is time to apply the Long Tail to manufacturing. Small batch manufacturing means more customization and niche products. Rapid prototyping means tighter iterations in physical product development and more innovation. Similar to the digital world “beta” physical products are now a possibility. We are also seeing the evolution of manufacturing returning to the time of the single craftsperson, able to design and create a complete physical from scratch. Yet this new craftsperson has the power of globalization at their fingertips.
In this new age of digital fabrication and personal manufacturing you can send physical objects over the internet. It will result in changes in patterns of consumption and new design techniques, which we touched on in our discussion last night. Some of the products I introduced included:
However, there will be unintended consequences, and social problems that will need to be solved as 3D printers become more mainstream. We talked about the copyright problem, and the printing of illicit materials such as guns, viruses and drugs. Pollution was another big topic, including the issue of space, and our already huge problem with plastic. Consider when every household has a device that can create stuff at the push of a button, and that overwhelmingly that stuff will be made of plastic.
I closed by encouraging the audience to get involved by learning and doing, for example at OK Makerspace. For those that don’t want to actually make things, there is a lot of opportunity to get involved in the new industrial revolution by thinking about creative solutions to the problems raised. Furthermore I implored the audience to involve their children. The generation before us had to foresight to give us computers. We must do the same for our children.
During the question period the topics of printing food, the advancement of materials science and how 3D printing might change our economic relationship to China came up. It lead to intriguing discussion and I even got to deploy my thinking on what 3D printing and future recycling techniques will mean for Plato’s Theory of Forms. Overall, everyone seemed engaged and the reaction afterwards and on Twitter was encouraging.
Below are some links to resources, products and services that I mentioned in the talk. As usual, feel free to hit me up to learn more, or if you want to discuss these issues.