Welcome to Future Crunch

Hooray, we're off! This little project has been cooking for a while, and Tane and I are pretty stoked to finally welcome it into the light of day. Over the next few weeks and months we'll be going into some more background on why we started this, and what our goals are. For now, let's just say that the more we look around us, the more we're starting to see the possibility of a future that looks way more interesting than most people would have you believe. This blog is going to be a place where we scribble out some rants highlight some of the key technologies of the future, and what they're going to mean for business and society.

tech.jpg

For the record, I should note right from the start that I am NOT a techno-utopian, and I don't believe in quick fixes and nirvana. I'm happy to let the wish-fulfillment of over-educated white men play out in science fiction novels. What I do believe though, is that tomorrow's problems are going to be different to today's. The sooner people start thinking about what those problems are going to be the sooner we can begin working on them so that they don't blindside us. 

The implications of certain technologies (e.g. a world where you are constantly monitored by thousands of independent, connected devices) are terrifying... but can also be used for positive change (24 hour healthcare monitoring anyone)? As Carl Sagan once said, "virtually every major technological advance in the history of the human species - back to the invention of stone tools and the domestication of fire - has been ethically ambiguous." It's what we do with that technology that counts.

So without further ado, what's getting my attention right now? Well, 3-D manufacturing is getting a lot of airplay. The thing that's driving that is rapidly falling prices. Even a few months ago, 3-D printers still cost thousands of dollars, but a recent successful Kickstarter campaign has now brought that down to $300. As Peter Rothman notes in a great post today on H+, "early home/consumer models were fraught with kinks and glitches, and by all practical measure were little more than toys for the tech savvy and financial secure to entertain their friends by churning out kitsch little plastic baubles then one could just as easily buy by the pallet-load from any sweatshop in Asia, under the current economic model… but this is beginning to change- quickly."

I'm still not sold on the timelines of a 3-D manufacturing home revolution (seems to me that we're still two or three years away from that). But it's coming whether you like it or not. If you want a comparison, remember how quickly DVD players went from early adoption to being sold for knock down prices and tethered with your iPhone contract? 

What gets me really excited though, is the large-scale commercial applications of 3-D printing. Recently, a Chinese company printed 10 houses in 24 hours using this technology. Thomas Frey has a good article on this... according to him there's been a race to figure out a way of mass producing cheap housing using 3-D printing, and the Chinese team came up with an unexpected solution. Apparently, they used a modular approach, "printing all of the components inside a large factory, and transporting and assembling the houses at their final destination. With this approach, the WinSun Decoration Design Engineering Company not only printed a house in a day, they completed 10 houses in a single day using a massive printer that was 490 feet long, 33 feet wide, and 20 feet deep. The ‘ink’ used was made of recycled construction materials, industrial waste and tailings, and according to Architect’s Newspaper, each of these homes cost around $4,800."

Seriously... printing houses? Think of the implications, especially in developing countries. I know, for example, that in South Africa, the government has built around 3 million houses since 1994 in an effort to provide the country's poorest citizens with a decent place to live. The average cost per house has worked out to about $2000. And the Chinese technology is still at trial phase. How much longer before 3-D house printing becomes a viable and cheap option to get roofs over the heads of people that need them most?  

Some more articles on the 3-D Chinese houses here and here.