The Caffeinated Penguin

musings of a crackpot hacker

At home fabrication

Posted By on February 27, 2008

This has interested me for some time. I mentioned it in 's blog, and he pointed me at this talk given by an MIT professor.

This is my real interest in Star Trek Replicators or Diamond Age Matter Compilers – the ability to hack physical things just as if it were software. Right now, I want a program which does X, I go write it. It uses some time, and some bits on a drive. When I no longer need it, I delete it, the bits are reclaimed. In this model, the same thing would be true of physical objects. Instead of (and this happened recently) needing a replacement chunk of steel 1/4″ x 1/4″ x 1″ and thus getting a piece of steel and cutting it to the correct size, I would model it in an app and toss it into the matter compiler. Similarly, if I wanted to design my own small model tanks, I could go nuts with some 3D CAD program, stuff it into the matter compiler, and go. Or, I could take an existing design, like an M1A2 Abrams, and fiddle with it.

This is not that farfetched – 3D models and macros are already shared by the POVRay community for generating their images, this is similar, except it generates physical objects.

Further, once you have the ability to compile matter into an output object, the next logical extension is to decompile matter. Garbage pickup becomes a thing of the past as your household refuse is decompiled into some type of buffer area, or possibly just rearranged into something inert (kind of like ingots of metal which are melted down and then you use to cast things – your garbages is recompiled into a brick which you put in a cabinet under the unit and then put back in the unit when you want something.. Alternatively, if you are attached to some central area, then the matter goes there for storage and comes back).

Now, it's late, so I won't get into the disruptive nature of this technology. However, consider this – since the wealth of nations is effectively built on scarcity (of precious metals, food, etc.) what happens when these things are no longer scarce? Further, while brilliant designers would still be in demand, what happens to manufacturing?

The way I see it, most manufacturing business would become design shops or cease to exist. After that, an infrastructure would develop similar to online music distribution – you buy something and get to make so many copies before it stops working. Of course, you can just stick the original in the machine, tell it to scan it and duplicate, and you can always make another copy. This, there will be all kinds of crazy mandated copy protection, and then a bunch of folks will rebel and come up with their own designs. Of course, as in The Diamond Age, actual handcrafted items will still have value, but will be a fancy luxury item…

So, I guess I did get into it more than I intended to, but that is because it is so interesting…

Of course, the real question is if there is going to be an economic collapse before we get to this new age..


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