Re: [rp-ml] Nano/fabber politics

From: Steve Baker (
Date: Tue Aug 09 2005 - 03:30:44 EEST

There are really two kinds of things people think about when you
say 'Nanotechnology'.

Some people are thinking about smart materials, chemicals with almost
magical properties - things like carbon buckytubes - that kind of thing.

I have no problem with believing that this is a trillion dollar business
which is already ramping up to reaping the big bucks.

However, the OTHER kind of Nanotech that people are thinking of are
'assemblers' and 'universal assemblers' - the teeny-tiny robots that
would assemble things an atom at a time.

It's not clear that these things are even possible - the nanotechnologists
are about evenly divided about that.

But there is a tremendous overlap with rapid prototyping technology
(especially when that stuff gets down-scaled to the point where there
is one in every home next to their Canon InkJet printer - and it's
for *production* rather than prototyping).

Either Nanotech or cheap "3D Printer" technology can give you a machine
(be it reprap or nanotech) that takes in some kind of standard stream of
materials and makes a wide variety of finished goods. If/when we have that
in common use, about 50% of the high street stores out there will be out
of business - as will be the chain of manufacturing and shipping that keeps
their shelves full of little plastic things with little electronic things

The future business models will be:

* Selling raw materials in bulk
* Selling designs for people to make their machines work.

This reduces the business of making most consumer goods to a design process
and a honking great chemical feedstuffs chain.

There are two ways the design side can go.

* The machines can be tied up solidly with IP protection and 'lock in' so
    that you can only (say) fabricate Microsoft designs on your Microsoft
    fab machine. - and you're limited to the number you can make without
    buying the software again. If you want a small variation on the design
    - you're screwed.

* ...or we might end up in a world like OpenSource software where you can
   get designs for free (or nearly for free) and make stuff to your hearts
   content. High end - complex designs might still be worth buying - just
   as people still buy Photoshop for hundreds of bucks - despite the
   existance of The GIMP (which is pretty similar - and *free*).

   I might download and fabricate an 'OpenSourced' soup bowl - but if I
   need a new part for my car, I'll probably pay money for it because my
   life might depend on it being designed correctly. I can also design
   my own stuff - or tweak the design of OpenSourced stuff.

Which of those we end up with is crucial to the future of manufacturing.

Either way, the results will be both amazing and devastating - depending
on whether you work in a factory that churns out small things out of
plastic and electronics - or whether you are a consumer of such things.

What this does to the world economy is beyond prediction. I doubt that
anyone can accurately say what would happen.

But it's going to happen - and probably sooner than most people would

---------------------------- Steve Baker -------------------------
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