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Fab Labs and low cost manufacturing

Professor Neil Gershenfeld is the Director of MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms.  In his TED Talk in 2006 he makes the following thought provoking statement:

"Computer Science is one of the worst things that happened to either computers or to science"

Out of context this is a very polarizing arguably confusing statement coming from a professor at MIT.  If you think about the last 61 years there have been some tremendous advancements because of companies that built computers like Dell, HP, Apple, Compaq, Acer, and IBM.  Then in the last 17 years companies and organizations including Google, AOL, Wikipedia and Yahoo brought information to anyone with an internet connection.  It is pretty remarkable that every student in grade school currently has access to more information than is stored in the library of congress for the cost of an internet connection, a computer, and the time to find it.  So how could he make such a statement?

He goes on to say:
"because the cannon of computer science prematurely froze the model of computation based on technology that was available in 1950 and nature is a much more powerful computer than that."

Nature designs using an evolutionary process.  So far humans have designed software and computers using a top down approach.  By top down he means a few smart people design a solution and throw it out into the world. The opposite would be to take a grass roots approach where solutions are grown organically on the local level, think micro-finance, Kickstarter, etc.

He goes on to say:
(in 1977) "Ken Olsen the co-founder of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) famously said you don't need a computer in the home"

In 2011 it might be confusing as to why the founder of a computer company would say that.  It turned out that computers became so inexpensive that the majority of Americans have them in their homes and increasingly in the palm of their hands with smart phones.  This democratization made it possible for consumers to become creators.  Big companies started calling customers consumers because they were consuming products and TV.  Today all of that is changing.  The shift from consumers to creators in a meaningful way is obvious when you look at projects like Wikiepdia, YouTube, Blogger, Twitter, Face Book, and Makerbot.

As Neal says "The message from the Fab Labs is the other 5 billion people on the planet aren't just technical sinks they are sources. The real opportunity is to harness the inventive part of the world."

At Inventables we agree so our goal is to put an R&D lab on every desktop.

Watch the whole TED Talk here and then go make something at the Fab Lab near you.

2 comments:

J.A. Ginsburg said...

Love Gershenfeld ... have you seen the video of his MakerFaire talk from a couple of months ago? http://fora.tv/2011/05/21/Neil_Gershenfeld_The_Future_of_Fabrication Also, we recently featured a big spread on TrackerNews about Maker Culture. Here's the companion post: "Bar, Hack, Lab, Fix: The Genius of Play and the Power of Opportunity" http://trackerblog.trackernews.net/2011/06/15/bar-hack-lab/

btw, I'm in town for a few weeks —would love to stop by and meet...

J.A. Ginsburg said...

Love Gershenfeld. Have you seen the talk he gave at MakerFaire a couple of months ago? http://fora.tv/2011/05/21/Neil_Gershenfeld_The_Future_of_Fabrication

Also, we recently featured a big spread on Maker Culture on the TrackerNews.net aggregator. Here's the companion post: "Bar, Hack, Lab, Fix: The Genius of Play and the Power of Opportunity" http://trackerblog.trackernews.net/2011/06/15/bar-hack-lab/

Am in town for a few weeks — would love to stop by...