In a presentation before the Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco, Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired magazine, discussed his new book, Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, in which he profiles startup entrepreneurs who are using social media and other tools, such as open-source software, "to redefine American industry and manufacturing."
Anderson began by telling about how, inspired by his children's Lego set, he overcame his fear of hardware to such a great extent that he got into the drone business in Mexico and now competes with the aerospace industry and produces more drones than the U.S. government does. Next, he acquired a 3-D printer, and now the children complain that it should have more color and resolution. This personalization of technology is what created the personal computer business at Apple in 1977.
If digital technology could be applied to the biggest industries in the world, Anderson envisioned that a new industrial revolution could be born. He referred to the first industrial revolution, beginning in 1776 and the improvements in quality of life that resulted, admittedly with the costs associated with mass production. He argued that the second industrial revolution was the digital revolution in 1977, which democratized the computer based on the vision of Steve Jobs and Wozniak.
Anderson seeks the "Maker" revolution as a combination of the first two revolutions, "the introduction of digital manufacturing tools to anybody and everybody." The credit for the term goes to Dale Doughty, who recognized something going on in 2006 and2007, and he created Make magazine, maker fairs and the maker movement. It's the web generation meets the real world.
The host, author and entrepreneur Eric Ries, responded that the audience is skeptical of what is possible with 3-D printing. Anderson's response was that it isn't a mass-production technology, but rather a way to produce prototypes or custom products. He pointed out that General Electric prints titanium blades for jets with 3-D printers. He told of a discussion with Craig Venter, who is creating a DNA printer that might enable the printing of flu vaccines.
One would also have to consider side effects, such as "killer apps" that might actually kill. He said that as was the case with desktop publishing — people can upload production prototypes to factories in China that can produce them and will accept PayPal. In response to a question on what this would mean for manufacturing, he said it would create more competition.
The funding of the projects could be done through crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter, which do three things: move money forward in time in order to fund startup activities; perform market research because the funders will purchase the product; and builds communities to support the enterprise. Half of the audience raised their hands that they had participated in the funding of a project through Kickstarter.
Anderson suggested that the audience buy 3-D printers for their children this season at a price of about $2,000, because the time is right. Then, he suggested that 3-D printers be added to computer labs at schools to make them design labs that students could use to learn how to use computer-aided design programs. These initiatives could help create a new generation of makers.
Ries brought up the book The Kill Decision and asked whether killer drones could run amok. Anderson responded that this is true of all technology. He said that creating a community enables the promotion of safe and responsible use and that they have reached out to the regulators and law enforcement authorities.
He quipped that if robots were capable of making ethical choices, they would have already taken over the world. Also, according to Venter, technology can be built into the machines to detect abuses. The challenge will ultimately be to adapt to real threats, rather than to imaginary ones.
Anderson concluded that the missing markets were the markets of 10,000, some of which will grow to 10,000,000. He mentioned artisan food as an example of craftsmanship people are willing to pay more for. Thus there are many niches that entrepreneurs can address through the maker movement.
Asked by Ries where the movement might be centered, Anderson said it's a distributed movement, but Brooklyn is one of the areas where the movement is growing, because there's creative design in New York, and this compensates for labor inefficiencies. Manufacturing can be moved to where people live and be done just in time.
Robert Feinberg served on the staff of the House Banking Committee for the 10 years that encompassed the savings-and-loan debacle and the beginning of its migration to the banking sector. Subsequently, he has consulted on issues related to the crisis for law firms, accounting firms, securities firms and trade associations.
Feinberg holds a BS.E. from the Wharton School and a J.D. from the Law School of the University of Pennsylvania. He has drafted dissenting views on landmark banking legislation, contributed to a financial blog and written hundreds of reports for clients to document the course of the financial crisis as it has unfolded over the past three decades.
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