Saturday, December 13, 2008

If I Could Talk To TED

Cross-posted to Future Blogger.

In his 2005 book FAB, author Neil Gershenfeld introduced the world to the possibilities of our potential near future.

If I could talk to TED, I would remind them of this and point out that there is likely to be a longish wait for whole-object fabrication technology to be affordable and reliably available to the general public. And, that it isn't really necessary to wait for that happy day either. We humans are long established tool users already, so how unreasonable is it to seek to develop the fab technology to create replacement parts for our existing technology and simply replace the worn bits as necessary? The technology already allows for the used parts to be de-constructed on-site for re-use in later fabrications as well.

If I could talk to TED, I'd remind them that guys like me, in our 50's now, along with our wives and children are the initial target market for this technology to achieve ultimate universal acceptance and application. I would suggest to my fellow TEDsters that a useful mechanism for achieving that goal would be a video campaign that visually demonstrates the technology and its application process to any potential additional user. I would also point out that there is a wide-spread lack of understanding of why adoption of new scientific advances takes so long to come to market; watching as the early attempts fail, and explaining the complexities involved, will be an express objective of this video campaign also, with the eventual objective of showing ultimate success of course.

If I could talk to TED, I would point out that there exists an empty building in Tyler Texas that would be wonderfully suitable for such a long-term effort that is available for lease. A former Walmart store, it already has a heavy maintenance area (the former automotive department) as well as warehouse storage, shipping and receiving facilities in place. An enclosed section of the parking lot (part of the former garden center) allows for long term secure testing of environmental effects on fab'd items and materials as well as extensive interior space for multiple projects to occur simultaneously. The ready availability of cable technology allows for high speed data transfer capability at little expense, so such a site would be suitable for tele-presence research efforts involving Dr. Gershenfeld's MIT lab and others to collaborate on projects at little added expense. Perhaps TED could facilitate developing and coordinating such projects.

If I could talk to TED, I would point out that this technology will have a profound effect upon existing commercial and social models of human behavior. I would beseech the members of TED to intercede with the Board of Directors of Walmart to facilitate their becoming the corporate sponsor of this effort. Their business model in a future FAB society might be to provide the fab facilities for larger projects than a personal unit could handle as well as downloadable (for a modest fee) specifications for proven items of common usage that individuals might occasionally have need for. Don't want to fab 10 rolls of TP (or whatever) on your personal machine? Go to Walmart and pick up the order you submitted on-line earlier. The possible opportunities for Walmart from such an association are numerous.

If I could talk to TED, I would point out that a potentially decade-long effort could be basically funded for $7 to $8 million with the expectation that much of the capital equipment would be donated and/or secondhand. Three regular employees would be augmented by research students and collaborative corporate sources with only periodic specialty contracted services necessary otherwise. It is specifically stipulated that any expansion beyond the basic video campaign would be financed in full by the expanded effort - indeed, that such a commercialization of the research would explicitly include additional funding for the research project.

If I could talk to TED, I would point out that social change has need for attention to practical necessities as well as high minded ideals. That Vision can't always be focused on the objective if it wishes to overcome the obstacles. That failure along the way to success is a valuable lesson too. That taking the time and making the effort to answer objections in real and demonstrable fashion is also an important part of gaining acceptance of change, which itself is necessary to attaining widespread adoption of desired change. And finally, I would point out the obvious, that the future is coming no matter what we do and ask how much better are we prepared to make it be?

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