The director of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms takes a captivating look at the future of invention, positing a world in which the home fabrication system is as ubiquitous as the home computer.
The concept of personal fabrication can be a bit heady and difficult to grasp, so Gershenfeld turns to something more familiar. On Star Trek: The Next Generation, crew members frequently employ the replicator, a machine that puts together molecules to create whatever they want—Captain Picard’s mug of tea, for example. These days, making just about anything right here on Earth is nearly that simple, the author tells us. To illustrate, he discusses the projects he’s witnessed over the past seven years in “fab labs” (fabrication labs) around the world. These include a bag that collects and replays screams, a computer interface for parrots that can be controlled by a bird’s beak, a personalized bike frame, a cow-powered generator, and on and on. Gershenfeld organizes his text around methods of creation: addition, subtraction, description, computation and more. Each section describes the tools on the market today that work using these basic principles, including laser cutters, injection molders, three-dimensional scanners and even LEGO “bricks” that incorporate microchips. Since the author is describing people and projects that actually exist, rather than a fantastical vision of a utopian someday, his central contention is mightily convincing. A couple of obvious limits to personal fabrication are, of course, the scale and price of tools on the market; most people don’t have the space or money for their own waterjet cutter. Gershenfeld, however, makes a powerful, persuasive analogy to illustrate where he thinks personal fabrication is headed, comparing it to the paradigm-altering evolution of the mainframe computer into the PC.
Accessible, inspiring and wonderfully human: sure to spark the imagination.