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Filmed on Tuesday February 19, 02013

Chris Anderson

The Makers Revolution

A former writer for The Economist, Chris Anderson was the editor-in-chief of Wired magazine until 02012, when he left to help run 3D Robotics, a manufacturing start-up. He is the author of The Long Tail and Makers: The New Industrial Revolution.

Chris Anderson’s book THE LONG TAIL chronicled how the Web revolutionized and democratized distribution. His new book MAKERS shows how the same thing is happening to manufacturing, with even wider consequences, and this time the leading revolutionaries are the young of the world. Anderson himself left his job as editor of Wired magazine to join a 22-year-old from Tijuana in running a typical Makers firm, 3D Robotics, which builds do-it-yourself drones.

Web-based collaboration tools and small-batch technology such as cheap 3D printers, 3D scanners, laser cutters, and assembly robots, Anderson points out, are transforming manufacturing. Suddenly, large-scale manufacturers are competing not just with each other on multi-year cycles, they are competing with swarms of tiny competitors who can go from invention to innovation to market dominance in a few weeks. Anybody can play; a great many already are; a great many more are coming.

“Today,“ Anderson writes, “there are nearly a thousand ‘makerspaces‘— shared production facilities— around the world, and they’re growing at an astounding rate: Shanghai alone is building one hundred of them.“

“Open source,” he adds, “is not just an efficient innovation method— it’s a belief system as powerful as democracy or capitalism for its adherents.“

This talk is in partnership with Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and we would like to extend a special welcome to the YBCA:YOU members.

Desktop manufacturing changes world

We’re now entering the third industrial revolution, Anderson said. The first one, which began with the spinning jenny in 01776, doubled the human life span and set population soaring. From the demographic perspective, "it’s as if nothing happened before the Industrial Revolution."

The next revolution was digital. Formerly industrial processes like printing were democratized with desktop publishing. The "cognitive surplus" of formerly passive consumers was released into an endless variety of personal creativity. Then distribution was democratized by the Web, which is "scale agnostic and credentials agnostic." Anyone can potentially reach 7 billion people.

The third revolution is digital manufacturing, which combines the gains of the first two revolutions. Factory robots, which anyone can hire, have become general purpose and extremely fast. They allow "lights-out manufacturing," that goes all night and all weekend.

"This will reverse the arrow of globalization," Anderson said. "The centuries of quest for cheaper labor is over. Labor arbitrage no longer drives trade." The advantages of speed and flexibility give the advantage to "locavore" manufacturing because "Closer is faster." Innovation is released from the dead weight of large-batch commitments. Designers now can sit next to the robots building their designs and make adjustments in real time.

Thus the Makers Movement. Since 02006, Maker Faires, Hackerspaces, and TechShops (equipped with laser cutters, 3D printers, and CAD design software) have proliferated in the US and around the world. Anderson said he got chills when, with the free CAD program Autodesk 123D, he finished designing an object and moused up to click the button that used to say "Print." This one said "Make." A 3D printer commenced building his design.

Playing with Minecraft, "kids are becoming fluent in polygons." With programs like 123D Catch you can take a series of photos with your iPhone of any object, and the software will create a computer model of it. "There is no copyright on physical stuff," Anderson pointed out. The slogan that liberated music was "Rip. Mix. Burn." The new slogan is "Rip. Mod. Make."

I asked Anderson, "But isn’t this Makers thing kind of trivial, just trailing-edge innovation?" "That’s why it’s so powerful," Anderson said. "Remember how trivial the first personal computers seemed?"

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