Set up: The Red Dwarfers are investigating the wreckage of the SSS Esperanto. It quickly becomes apparent that the crew of the Esperanto have all killed themselves and eventually it is realized that the suicides were due to severe depression caused by a toxic hallucinogen. Subsequently attacked by a giant squid, they crash Starbug which explodes seemingly killing all. However, it transpires that in fact the entire series has been a total immersion gaming experience and that they have all been wired into a gaming terminal for the last 4 years. The great Timothy Spall plays Andy, the technician who welcomes them ‘back to reality’. It soon becomes apparent that in the game each character can in fact, and should in fact, have achieved all of their innermost desires.
ANDY (Brummie accent): he [Rimmer] was a handpicked special agent for the space corp, he had his memory erased and was programmed to behave like a complete twonk, so no-one would suspect he was on a secret mission to destroy Red Dwarf in order to guide Lister to his destiny as the creator of the 2nd universe………………………..
ANDY: here hang on a minute, are you seriously telling me you were playing the prat version of Rimmer for all that time…for 4 years…ho ho ho whoa, that’s a classic that is, a classic
Observation: Back in our world, (not the Red Dwarf fictional universe) it strikes me that if there is a god, a compassionate and loving god (and the positive architectures of any of the main religions will do), then surely the only way to interpret what has happened, history as we understand it, is that God is Timothy Spall, and we have completely ballsed the whole thing up and played the prat version of Rimmer for all eternity. Doh.
This is pure gold. A wonderful way to consider the future and how it ‘arrives’, or as it seems doesn’t. The language is a bit fanny in places, and I had to really concentrate to understand some passages (which he then explained in much easier language 2 paragraphs later….doh), but the essential value in this essay is great. I Have mentioned the manufactured normalcy field before, as a marketing tool. This is the original piece and deals with the concept in a deeper more informative fashion.
“Most futurists are interested in the future beyond the Field. I am primarily interested in the future once it enters the Field, and the process by which it gets integrated into it. This is also where the future turns into money”
Another great read, Cocaine incorporated, a comprehensive overview of the Sinloa cartel in Mexico and the vast drug smuggling empire built by Joaquin Guzman, El Chapo. Aside from being straightforwardly entertaining this article produced the following 2 nuggets.
“It’s like geopolitics,” Tony Placido said. “You need to use violence frequently enough that the threat is believable. But overuse it, and it’s bad for business.”
“They erect this fence,” he said, “only to go out there a few days later and discover that these guys have a catapult, and they’re flinging hundred-pound bales of marijuana over to the other side.” He paused and looked at me for a second. “A catapult,” he repeated. “We’ve got the best fence money can buy, and they counter us with a 2,500-year-old technology.”
Alan Kay is a pioneer of much of the computing landscape we take for granted today. He seems like an incredibly interesting person although I won’t pretend that I understand all of the work he has produced (at all!). In this interview we learn of his views relating to powerpoint, the web, the internet and education.
This is a short view, just over a minute long, called sketches of the meta city. On the one hand it seems to be another nice, high production value view, of how and where augmented reality technology may eventually interact with our lives. On the other hand it shows how the concept of meta data is leaking out from the world of the semantic web and the data mining behemoths into everyday experience. Experiences that haven’t really been digital before, and only become so now in an observational fashion. In short, you’re still going to be riding a bus.
Finally a bit of Friday afternoon whimsy. I could wallop on about how young children ‘get’ technology (the star of the clip is 4 years old), but frankly that’s old hat now. Much better to just enjoy her wonderful prank !
I’ve just finished watching ‘the smartest guys in the room’ a documentary which goes through the detail of exactly what happened at Enron before it went bust. I’m surprised on so many levels, but perhaps mostly by how little I had understood of the scandal’s DNA, from the coverage at the time and since.
In my mind it had been an accounting scandal, the lunacy of mark to market combined with Arthur Anderson’s complicity and some market rigging of the Californian electricity markets. It was more than that though. Enron’s position as the poster boy of free market ideology (something I had missed) was a causal factor, not an accidental correlation as many seem to believe.
The scandal is also a testament to that ultimate human frailty, the happy decision to proceed with stupidity, largely because someone told us to, and everyone else was.
There is also a wider lesson here, something that resonates with the challenges that we currently face.
Those challenges can be stated as a question; how should we structure capitalism today?
To help answer that question it is instructive to ask exactly what Jeff Skilling did to get to the top? Jeff was an ideas man. The idea he introduced was this.
When faced with the difficulty of making sufficient returns on the production, sale and distribution of power (originally the market Enron played in was gas, electricity came later) Skilling took the company in a different direction. They became traders in the energy markets. This is easy to misunderstand because, of course, they always were trading in the energy markets.
The indication here is that we are talking of 2 different meanings of the words trader / trading.
Enron originally was a trader in the sense that they sourced, extracted and distributed the raw materials (gas) of energy production. They pulled it out of the ground and sold it.
Skilling added a 2nd, but wildly different, sense of the word trader. He turned them into a company that traded power in markets. Enron traders became traders in the sense that the stock exchange floor is populated by traders.
To be clear. They reduced the focus on creating a product and selling it to their, and their customers advantage, and became a drain instead, making money as a by-product of trades of energy commodities.
They became a financial company, instead of a company that makes products.
It is past time that this approach to wealth creation is removed from the ascendant position it currently occupies as the primary and most significant driver of western economies. Effecting this change is one of the most significant challenges facing modern capitalism.
We don’t need to lose the bankers. We don’t need the bankers to be put in the poor house. We just need to get them into a support role for production capital, rather than expending their energy in endless schemes to create new money without any real underpinning wealth and value. The zero sum game needs to stop, and it needs to stop NOW.
Analyst: You are the only financial institution that can’t produce a balance sheet or cash flow statement with their earnings…
Jeffrey Skilling: You, you, you… Well, uh… thank you very much. We appreciate it… asshole.
That quote was from a public earnings call with analysts. Skilling, the CEO, could not explain how Enron made money and publicly called the analyst an asshole for asking a very reasonable question. That is probably worth repeating.
The CEO could not explain how they made money and publicly called the analyst an asshole for asking a very reasonable question.
Enron was a black box. In one end went desires, out the other end came a set of what we now know were fraudulent earnings statements. And that’s before we even start to examine the horrendous rigging of the Californian electricity market and the actions of the CFO in hiding losses.
The documentary uncovered tapes of the Enron traders talking about the market manipulations in California.
The concept of arbitrages, as used here, is quite vital to the situation. Essentially California had been experimenting with deregulation of the energy markets. Arbitrage was the process whereby loopholes were found, within the remaining regulations, and exploited. Even though this seemed legal to the traders, on paper, it is clear how they actually viewed these practices.
“He just f—s California,” says one Enron employee. “He steals money from California to the tune of about a million.”
“Will you rephrase that?” asks a second employee.
“OK, he, um, he arbitrages the California market to the tune of a million bucks or two a day,” replies the first.
There is evidence that they asked producers to turn off production to create artificial supply shortages resulting in artificial increases in price.
“If you took down the steamer, how long would it take to get it back up?” an Enron worker is heard saying.
“Oh, it’s not something you want to just be turning on and off every hour. Let’s put it that way,” another says.
“Well, why don’t you just go ahead and shut her down.”
And then there are the comments that show just how little concern these people had for the impact of what they were doing, which, for what it is worth, and in my opinion, was behaving like a pack of feral little shits.
“They’re f——g taking all the money back from you guys?” complains an Enron employee on the tapes. “All the money you guys stole from those poor grandmothers in California?”
“Yeah, grandma Millie, man”
“Yeah, now she wants her f——g money back for all the power you’ve charged right up, jammed right up her a—— for f——g $250 a megawatt hour.”
Free market ideology and deregulation have been the corner stone of western economic policies since the days of Thatcher and Reagan. The economic theories of Carlota Perez show that these policies, that favour finance capital over production capital do indeed have a time and a place. I am not discounting their use in appropriate circumstances, but for now, in this part of the cycles their day is done and we need to urgently move on. If nothing else surely the Enron debacle proves such a point.
The last time we saw this changeover of ascendancy between finance and production capital was after the depression of the 1930’s. It took 13 years and a world war to complete. Let’s not be so stupid this time too.
It’s well documented, and quite frankly, voraciously experienced, in almost all aspects of modern life, how disruptive the influence of the internet and the world wide web have been. It’s also well documented how information and knowledge acquisition, at the species level, has been ever accelerating leading to more discoveries of disruptive technology, arriving at ever shorter intervals.
3D printing is a good candidate for being the next big one (or one of the next big ones). There’s even speculation that the changes it might spawn, could be as wide reaching and transformative as the internet itself (although as an aside, I rather like the mischievous assertion from Ha-Joon Chang that the washing machine had a greater impact than the internet).
Certainly the sort of people who look at these things for governments, have been looking at these things for governments and they have been talking in exactly these kind of terms. The next big disruption. In fact they have been looking in depth for some years now.
This comprehensive overview was produced for the US Office of Science and Technology. This wonderfully named report, it will be awesome if they don’t screw it up, provides a very clean and neutral view of the IP protection issues as current law stands. Both these documents were produced in 2010.
So, let’s begin by defining exactly what it is.
3D printing is the machinery and process that allows us to build 3 dimensional objects using technology that prints material as successive layers building up into potentially complex artefacts. All that is required is a computer, a data file and a materials printer. Which, if we are being honest, doesn’t sound terribly revolutionary?
What’s is new, however, is the fact that the material printer part of the equation, is approaching levels of accessibility, function and cost that make it attractive for usage at the entirely domestic level.
Out of the 3 factors cost is clearly the easiest to measure and most fluid, function is fairly easy to describe and accessibility largely a function of the previous two.
A Reprap kit from thereprapkitstore.co.uk, which would need assembly, would set you back £435 (at least as of 22/3/12).
A makerbot replicator might set you back between $1800 to $2000. Prices go up from there, I’ve seen mention of printers in Universities costing $800k and being described as obsolete
So, whereas it’s not pocket money, the lower end of the spectrum certainly is the sort of money that people commonly spend on household utility products of a complex nature. And, of course, it’s only going to get cheaper.
A nice overview of the function available in today’s market can be demonstrated by a quick whizz through the Reprap project itself. A 3D printing machine expressly designed such that it has the ability to print almost all the parts required for its own assembly. Moreover it’s an open source project that to date has been populated with very enthusiastic hobbyists whose hobby allows them to make alterations to the machine, in exactly the same way that open source code can be amended through interactive communities. Allied with the communicative power of the internet the Reprap project isn’t just inherently self-replicating it’s also, via its project DNA self-improving. If you think it’d be great if that nozzle was just 1mm wider? Fine, you have in your possession a machine that can make you that exact part!
If you can use a £400 pound machine to make something as complicated as the Reprap then I think it’s safe to suggest that the functionality offered by this concept is indeed starting to look like the sort of value that, eventually, might achieve a significant domestic penetration.
However great it is that we might all have these machines at home one day, if we consider 3D printing only from the domestic angle we will miss a lot of the potential. The vanguard of this technology change, as with many other previously, is small tech businesses and academia.
So whereas 3D printing is starting to become available as a domestic appliance, it is also highly instructive that we try to look at this technology at different geographic levels, which may well operate and innovate over different timescales, potentially quicker timescales.
I can imagine 3D printing at 3 levels.
- The home
- Local business
- Specialist business and academia
The geographic location of specialist printing could be quite disparate. They will be selling scarce skills and machinery to produce high level specification prints that will likely be shipped to the customer. As the breadth of the wider technology base increases, and we can use a wider range of materials, or as has been show recently, we can print at larger or smaller scales, I can see the specialist sector being very interesting and disruptive in and of itself.
A lot of this change, at local and specialist levels, will be happening underneath the surface for most of us. For example take any currently available plastic toy product, mass manufactured in China and shipped across the world which you might buy for your child for £12.99 at some online retailer, or high street for that matter. Would it matter to you if that object had been fabricated in Sheffield instead as a result of the Chinese manufacturer licencing the data file to a small family business? You’d still have to buy it through the internet or in retail. What’s the difference? Does the method of production mean anything for today’s customer, will they (we) care? Probably not, if we’re being honest with ourselves.
Indeed, the fact is that the world’s first franchised 3D printing company already exists, in Brazil! So we really aren’t talking about a few years hence. These changes are underway right now. Imprimate is a 3D printing company providing services to architects, engineers and designers, producing bespoke / one-time 3D models and operating on a franchise basis.
Imprimate is a business built around a wonderful example of one of the key benefits that 3D printing brings at the local and specialist level, and subsequently to society in general, quick prototyping. Indeed quick prototyping may well be one of the key business problems that drives a great deal of development revenue into 3D technology itself.
To understand why quick prototyping is so valuable consider the world of formula one racing. It’s a world where cutting edge technology is constantly being brought to bear season on season on season.
Whether it be the shape of a wing panel, or a brand new engine widget with a peculiar shape the prototyping cycle can be massively reduced because of the speed of production via 3D printing, in some cases from 3 weeks to 2 days. This allows test programs to batch test ideas and produce many small variations (or large for that matter!). This acceleration in R&D programs is enormously valuable. Formula One has been using quick prototyping via 3D printing since the 1980’s, but now it’s available to a much wider range of industries and businesses.
But say you do have a printer at home. How is that going to change things for you?
The dying art of DIY is going to get a shot in the arm. We are living in a society that has seen a marked increase in disposability over recent times, either through excessive and unjustifiable consumption (loadsamoney!!!!) or through product design or product complexity. Say you accidently knock your Dyson vacuum cleaner down the stairs and crack the plastic container of the main chamber. It’s a trivial job to replace it, if only you had a spare one to replace it with! Today you’d either, send it off to a repair shop, wait for the part in the post or throw it away and buy a new one. At some stage in the not so distant future you’ll be able to simply print yourself a replacement instead.
We might see custom fit products that can evolve. Children’s shoes get replaced a lot as their feet grow. This can be a problem of the past. Imagine getting a data file built to your child’s foot specification (maybe someone will build a machine that allows you to scan your child’s feet and converts that data to a 3D object data file) and containing the data (and permissions ?) for the latest Nike trainers. As your child grows you could either reprint the shoe at a slightly larger magnification, or if you wanted to you could rescan the child’s feet. The cost implication is only the marginal increase in raw material.
Want to have a different dining table every 2 weeks? In a world of 3D printing you’d just smash it up into the component raw material and start again. Same material, new table, fraction of the cost!
Want a truly unique table? One that fits very specifically into that weirdly shaped corner in your kitchen? You can have that. Want to change it every month? You can do that too.
That beautiful suit / dress you liked that is now a size too small? Chop it up and press the button.
All of a sudden the fashion for jackets changes, it’s now all about 3 buttons not 2. But you love the cloth on your 2 button jacket….no problem.
Now, these are all speculation, fairly solid speculation I’d say but nothing here is the 3D equivalent of Facebook, or Google. But then, I don’t think anyone could have predicted Facebook, in its current form, even 10 years ago. It’s highly plausible that the most impactful changes that 3D will spawn will be similarly unforecastable, a good measure of a new paradigm. We will have to wait and see.
In the meantime we can continue to ponder. There will be more subtle changes as well.
There will inevitably be some emerging hacker culture, both in terms of illegally obtaining shaping data, but also in the cultural sense, a driving force within the melting pot that is modern culture.
Many bloggers have hypothesised illegal 3D scanning. The idea that a new product on release will be scanned in shop and the scan data used to make illegally distributed files for said product. That might happen, it might not. But illegal scanning aside for the moment, I’m pretty sure that portable and cost attractive scanners will be available.
I can imagine a certain kind of object fetishism. An obsession reminiscent of the obsessions many designers display today. I can see hackers scanning and trading 3D curved spaces, as artefacts in and of themselves. I can imagine a need, an obsessive need, to scan these, wherever they are found. Not even for commercial gain necessarily, although that is quite likely too.
But in terms of culture this is how we will get our derivative works. This is how the 3D world will create a new category of mashup, mimicking the flexibility and impermanence of digital media in the realm of the solid and the functional.
It’s also going to put a whole new world of pressure on the already shaky intellectual property law. I’m not going to go into detail here, as it’s all relatively involved and this article does a much better job than I can, but the essential tussle will revolve around the transmission of the data files.
Should we apply patent law? Which in current law is the IP protection built specifically to protect functional objects. Or, does it become an issue that should be resolved by copyright law because the data files are essentially software, because copyright is the appropriate law to apply to software?
The differences are distinctive and essential.
Copyright exists the moment you have created a work. Patents must be applied for. Copyright is protection for the life of the creator +70 years (more in certain circumstances), whereas patent law only protects for 20 years. These are not trivial differences, nor are they the only significant differences.
One thing we can be sure of is that the incumbent industries will lobby for law changes that give them ever greater degrees of protection. Considering that IP law is about protecting innovation as a societal dynamic, as opposed to protecting the revenues of a specific set of industries, I find the prospect of copyright protection levels creeping into the world of functional objects quite disturbing.
I personally think we need a root and branch reform of the whole IP protection system, so I hope that the solution will be neither copyright nor patent, but some new body of law that encapsulates the dynamics of today’s digital world, not yesterday’s industrial one.
If 3D does turn out to be as big as some are suggesting then we can expect to see changes that affect our children. There might be a change to the way we educate children. The logistic process of design will be non-trivial, certainly in the near future, writing CAD files (the current accepted protocol for computerised 3D objects) is a specific skill. It’s a rare person who can simply sit down at a CAD terminal and be proficient from the get go.
Understanding geometry and materials science will, hopefully, become more popular. The connection between imagination, creation and the concepts that facilitate creation should spark fertile minds earlier than before when geometry was abstract, and not a route to the latest [insert latest cool toy].
It reminds of Daniel Kahneman’s observation about the future of science.
The only way I know to predict the future of science is to look at the choices of beginning graduate students. The specialization they acquire now will probably determine their activities for the next 15-20 years
In years to come we should look to see if the curriculum has indeed developed.
What about standards? When we are all able to fab replacement car parts how will we manage quality control processes for essential mechanical function? Will we need to? What about the public space. Will we see evolving art? Can we open up communal space for creative expression?
Now if that lot hasn’t set your head spinning watch this informative TED talk which takes us into even more seemingly fantastic ground. Except this isn’t a talk about what might happen. This is about what is already happening, highlighting where 3D printing is already making significant contributions.
A lot of very clever people are making some big claims for this technology, and whereas exactly where this goes, how the big issues play out, what unseen innovations arrive is still very much up for debate, it is surely beyond doubt this technology will drive (has already driven) significant changes of some kind, throughout society.