Chris Anderson leads the way in tech revolution

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In the late 1700s the invention of the “spinning jenny” spun more than just cotton. It sparked a conflagration of manufacturing gusto that would hence be known as the Industrial Revolution. This capitalist brain-child would later be answered with a second wave of technological rapid-fire in the mid ’80s in the heart of Silicon Valley, where there was only one word on the lips of hedge funds across the globe: “Digital.” Now, according to the former editor of “Wired,” Chris Anderson, there is a third revolution that is a combination of those that preceded it. It is the “Maker Movement,” and Anderson is just the guy to tell you about it.

Last Tuesday night Anderson gave a candid discussion on the state of future manufacturing technology at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. In addition to serving as the editor of Wired, Anderson was a reporter for The Economist and currently devotes all his time and energy to his recent CEO position at his drone robotics corporation. While also providing a brief summary and push for his latest book, “Makers: The New Industrial Revolution,” Anderson’s seminar was aimed at addressing recent shifts in the economics of the world’s systems of mass production.

To put it simply, the merit of this new movement is that technological manufacturing has become something that it hasn’t been since before the 1700s — democratized. Several new innovations, such as websites like
shapeways.com, can turn the personal, grassroots designs of creative individuals into 3-D reality by utilizing the overseas industrial system that was normally reserved for multimillion-dollar corporations with exclusive contracts. The recent availability of household 3-D printers has further aided this possibility.

To demonstrate the future he was describing, Anderson had onstage with him a visual aid that resembled something straight out of an episode of “Star Trek.” A sleek, wood-encased MakerBot 3-D printer sat nearby, roughly the size of a dorm room mini-fridge, emanating a blue fluorescent glow. After a few strokes on an attached touchpad, Anderson uploaded a digitally rendered design that the machine worked on over the course of the talk. By the end, it delivered a perfectly rendered plastic toy of Darth Vader’s head.

With this unprecedented speed and consistency comes a wide range of uncharted legal territory. Anderson touched on the lack of protective copyrights on 3-D objects that can now be replicated in someone’s living room with the touch of a button. His choice to replicate a globally recognized trademark of “Star Wars” onstage suddenly became an apt visual metaphor for the lack of control that corporations will have over what consumers decide to create in the privacy of their own MakerBots.

In order to summarize the potential of what this technology can do, it is important to remember the previous role that 2-D printing had in the lives of the mass consumer public. Anderson recalled that upon the original household printer’s reception, most regarded it as a tool to replicate what was written by others. But very quickly, the printer’s purpose became user-defined. Instead of a device merely used for replication, it became a way to transpose original ideas and writing onto paper that could then be distributed. And once digital photography took hold, the standard 2-D color printer became a vehicle for cataloging the lives and experiences of billions of people. The same is true for the 3-D printer proposed Anderson. We do not fully understand the role that it will play in the world, only that it will further the capability of technology to realize the products of our imagination.

Contact Ryan Koehn at [email protected].