If you listen to the news every day, it’s easy to feel the despair of watching a world facing economic, geopolitical and health issues. The 80’s and 90’s seem so distant now — the decades where we marveled at technological innovation moving forward at a rapid rate. Newspapers were filled with stories of new inventions. It feels so long ago, as the last decade the media has been occupied with stories of politics, war, the economy, popular culture and other non-scientific subjects. The media have been more concerned with a tech IPO than the technology behind it.
But technological innovation is still here. And it’s moving quietly forward more quickly than ever, on the same consistent exponential rate of growth. We are just so consumed now with the dreadful news that abounds and surrounds us, that we fail to see what’s happening right under our noses. The mainstream media, perhaps because they can no longer intellectually keep up with the technology, aren’t helping either; they seem content to cover politics and popular culture nauseum.
If you are paying attention though, you can see new astounding innovations occurring each day. Big innovations. Innovations that build upon previous innovations and will be built upon by others. And it’s these innovations that will save us from the dire future that the Chicken Littles of the day warn us about.
Innovations in genetics, nanotechnology, robotics, artificial intelligence, medicine, manufacturing and a host of other areas will bring what can only be described in current-day thinking as miracles to society. Technology will find ways — is already finding ways — to solve problems we face.
Vivek Wadhwa, contributor to Forbes in the Singularity University section of their site, just wrote a brilliant piece on this in his article, Why I Believe That This Will Be The Most Innovative Decade In History. He, too, believes the sky is not falling, and we are about to witness breathtaking advancements as numerous technologies make their way into our daily lives. He sees a reversal of what the pessimists are projecting into the future:
I don’t believe that the future holds shortages and stagnation; it is more likely to be one in which we debate how we can distribute the abundance and prosperity that we’ve created.
So, how does this relate to 3D printing? He devotes a part of his article to the future of manufacturing with 3D printer technology, and thinks it will be a core technology of the future. He writes:
In an emerging field called digital manufacturing, 3D printers enable the production of physical mechanical devices, medical implants, jewelry, and even clothing. These printers use something like a toothpaste tube of plastic or other material held vertically in an X-Y plotter that squirts out thin layers of tiny dots of material that build up, layer by layer, to produce a 3D replica of the computer-generated design. The cheapest 3D printers, which print rudimentary objects, currently sell for between $500 and $1000. Soon, we will have printers for this price that can print toys and household goods. Within this decade, we will see 3D printers doing the small-scale production of previously labor-intensive crafts and goods. In the next decade, we can expect local manufacture of the majority of goods; 3D printing of buildings and electronics; and the rise of a creative class empowered by digital making.
He is covering multiple technologies in the article, so cannot devote more time to the subject of 3D printing. But, of course, he understands that the benefits go beyond what he wrote. Material usage in manufacturing will be reduced as 3D printing is a near zero-waste process, printing only the amount of material required. Energy consumption will be drastically curtailed as not only will less raw material need to be transported, but manufacturing will move closer to the customer, likely in their own cities and eventually into their own homes, resulting in less end-product transportation costs. Unused products and be recycled back to their original form and easily used again and again as the source material in 3D printers. Large mass production runs of many types of products will become a thing of the past, replaced by on-demand, custom product printing. The list of benefits of 3D printing for the world goes on and on, touching on prototyping, manufacturing, medicine, architecture and construction, the military, and a multitude of other industries.
Wadhwa ties it all together:
I can go on and on and on, but the bottom line is that we are innovating at an unprecedented rate. In this and the next decade, we will begin to make energy and food abundant, inexpensively purify and sanitize water from any source, cure disease, and educate the world’s masses. The best part: it isn’t governments that will lead this charge; it will be the world’s entrepreneurs.
Count me as a believer.