Thursday, November 30, 2006

The self-developing world

Discussions about the future of personal fabrication often focus on the potential for applying these technologies to the developing world, how they can enable technological education and innovation, improve quality of life, but most importantly, how these technologies have the potential to equip people in poorer countries for competition in a global technology market. Neil Gershenfeld, head of MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms, has set up 'fab labs' in Ghana and inner-city Boston, among others, and explored the applications that laser cutters, CNC mills and routers can have when children and adults in rural and impoverished areas are given access to such tools.

The so-called '$100 laptop', though in reality approaching $150, as reported recently by the New York Times, is another attempt at using the developing world as an impetus and a testing ground for lowering costs of manufactured goods. If the experiment works, and proves to generate profit in addition to the 'quality of life' boost it promises, then the stage could be set for the same to be done for fabrication tools. Gershenfeld and his academic colleagues are doing innovative, interesting and admirable work -- but we need a project akin to the "$100 laptop", to make a big democratizing change in the market, and to bring these tools into common grasp.

A "$1500 CNC router" or "$2500 laser sintering machine" project would really get the wheels turning, and get hobbyists and kids thinking about the coming revolution.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Physical copyrights - legal precedents being set in Second Life

Let's imagine that the technology for creating things at will is already here, that the technical challenges have been sorted out, the technology is cheap and widely available, and the economic dependence on importing manufacturing goods from low-cost labor markets has been eliminated.

Once this happens, the world will be faced with a new question -- how (and whether) to deal with copyrights for physical objects that anyone can make? Second Life is grappling with this future issue today. Wired magazine explores the copyright implications of readily-copied 'physical' goods, as Linden Labs grapples with the potential havoc that could be wreaked when the means of production is distributed as easily as the product. If litigation arises from these developments, then the events in Second Life's virtual world have the potential to impact intellectual property law in the physical world...