This lecture was presented as part of The Long Now Foundation’s monthly Seminars About Long-term Thinking.
The Makers Revolution
Tuesday February 19, 02013 – San Francisco
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Desktop manufacturing changes world – a summary by Stewart Brand
We’re now entering the third industrial revolution, Anderson said. The first one, which began with the spinning jenny in 1776, 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 2006, 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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