WNNY: Preparing for the Third Digital Revolution: Fabrication

Neil Gershenfeld, Alan Gershenfeld, and Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld used December’s What’s Now: New York as the official New York launch party for their new book Designing Reality: How to Survive and Thrive in the Third Digital Revolution. The book brings the perspectives of science, technology, social science, and humanities to the third digital revolution—through three brothers who are not only observers of the revolution but also active participants in helping guide it.We’re in the early stages of the Third Digital Revolution and few people understand what’s about to hit them. The first two digital revolutions – in computers and communications – transformed the world, but the next revolution in fabrication is poised to make an even bigger impact.  Neil, the Director of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms, is considered the intellectual father of the Maker Movement, and the founder of a global network of more than 1200 community fab labs. Alan is a leader in the “games for change” movement and Joel leads social system transformations on a global basis. The Gershenfelds will talk about how today’s 3-D printers are just a small part of digital fabrication developments that are already enabling anyone to make (almost) anything—and that will evolve to be like the replicators on Star Trek.

In 2003, just 15 years ago, Neil kicked off the fab lab movement, in which individuals generate an impressive array of objects through community access to tools for design and fabrication. Since that time, the number of fab labs has doubled every year and half. The Gershenfeld brothers argue that a world where local communities can make most materials and objects is not science fiction, but a near-term reality that will disrupt many current manufacturing businesses and remake the world in unforeseen ways. For example, many current notions of globalization and planetary supply chains might need fundamental rethinking. Neil believes that digital fabrication could soon lead to a billion-fold gain in performance and end up altering the very construction of core materials. Alan and Joel, who have backgrounds in the social sciences and digital media for learning and social impact, have thought through the implications of that world, both in terms of its possibilities and potential dangers. Could this Third Digital Revolution play a critical role in solving climate change? Will it mitigate or exacerbate wealth inequalities? The Gershenfeld brothers sought to answer these questions and many more in this fascinating talk.