Bits and Atoms

Neil Gershenfeld speaks on Bits and Atoms (click to enlarge)

Neil Gershenfeld is the Director of the Center for Bits and Atoms at MIT. He calls for a a digitization of fabrication. He teaches a class called "How to Make (almost) Anything." He brings up the ribosome as an example of state-of-the-art fabrication machine. His lab is working on fab processes that work in the same way: no central control and no feedback mechanism. The final structure is encoded in the order of the tiles that are strung together.

His goal is not to build computers that control tools, but rather to build computers that are the tools--that is, computers that put things together.

He envisions a world of cheap personal fabricators. He's put together a prototype for $20,000 that includes a laser cutter, a sign cutter, and a milling machine that are all controlled through an extension to Python. They've put these in rural areas around the world. There is not just a digital divide, there's a fabrication divide. He shows a video of kids in Ghana using one of these prototypes to make things they want. He shows how rural Indians fabricated a part for about $1.00 to test the quality of milk--something that's very important to them. Local computers and technology for local needs.

His final comment is that everyone gets the idea behind this, but there are no organizations set up to fund it. There are some interesting parallels to what the Rollins eBusiness Center at BYU is doing in the Philippines, albeit not with fab.