2006 : WHAT IS YOUR DANGEROUS IDEA?

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Physicist, Director, MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms; Author, FAB
Democratizing access to the means of invention

The elite temples of research (of the kind I've happily spent my career in) may be becoming intellectual dinosaurs as a result of the digitization and personalization of fabrication.

Today, with about $20k in equipment it's possible to make and measure things from microns and microseconds on up, and that boundary is quickly receding. When I came to MIT that was hard to do. If it's no longer necessary to go to MIT for its facilities, then surely the intellectual community is its real resource? But my colleagues (and I) are always either traveling or over-scheduled; the best way for us to see each other is to go somewhere else. Like many people, my closest collaborators are in fact distributed around the world.

The ultimate consequence of the digitization of first communications, then computation, and now fabrication, is to democratize access to the means of invention. The third world can skip over the first and second cultures and go right to developing a third culture. Rather than today's model of researchers researching for researchees, the result of all that discovery has been to enable a planet of creators rather than consumers.