31. May 2005 · Comments Off on Harnessing The Creativity Of The Masses · Categories: General

Watching a rapid fabrication machine in action is like watching paint dry – if you could actually see the molecular chemistry taking place. It’s a really wondrous technology. A new center is forming at Saddleback College here in Orange County to make this technology more available to start-ups (OCRegister – free registration req’d):

Many university researchers are studying all the whiz-bang uses for this computer technology. But few companies understand how they can use it to be competitive in the rapidly changing global marketplace. And those who figure it out can’t find trained technicians.

The National Science Foundation is funding the Advanced Technology Center at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo to bridge the gap. The effort should boost the local economy by helping start-up companies develop cutting- edge products cheaper and faster and training workers for high-paying jobs.

Currently, machines and computers representing the latest technology are spread around campus while the building to house the center is remodeled. Everything should be consolidated in one location by July 1, says Ken Patton, dean of Business Science, Workforce and Economic Development and lead researcher on the NSF project.

This seems to go hand-in-hand with this latest post from Virginia Postrel:

Gershenfeld’s experience with students and workshops from Ghana to South Boston confirms von Hippel’s central point: In many cases, people want things they can’t currently get and, given the tools to make them, will create new inventions. “The killer app for personal fabrication is fulfilling individual desires rather than meeting mass-market needs,” he writes. (For more info, see his website here.) I admire Gershenfeld’s enthusiasm, but he overstates the case for making stuff yourself. I already have the equipment and (rusty) skills to fabricate my own skirts, and by making them myself I could get exactly the right fabric and fit. But I don’t. Making stuff yourself can be fun and satisfying, but it can also be time-consuming and frustrating. The theoretical question is who has the scarce knowledge. User innovation taps unique or unarticulated desires, but specialization allows expertise and gains from trade.

I’m not sure if Virginia quite “gets it” here. I’m something of a MacGyver/Hank Hill type myself. But, at this stage in my life, I prefer to just “job-out” the creation of my visions. The problem, of course, is finding people to fulfill your vision faithfully and competently. For me, it’s frequently easier just to do it myself.

But, I think the impact on society goes well beyond that. It’s about capitalizing on the creative talents of those who wouldn’t normally be inclined to follow through from imagination-to-market by traditional paths. All of this is just pie-in-the-sky at this point; we are still far from Xerox’s highly touted “On Demand Publishing” ideal, and that’s just print on paper. But it’s coming.

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