As a species, we have a remarkable history of scaling up and distributing new technologies among the world’s population. For centuries, books and letters were precious and limited to a small elite, today the printed word is ubiquitous and production costs are negligible. The most recent democratisation of technology took place in the digital realm: Within less than a decade, computation has moved from a few room-sized relay calculators to a global net of miniature sized pocket supercomputers – there are about 2 billion smartphones in the world today. And the next revolution is picking up speed: One of the most prominent pioneers of digital fabrication, Neil Gershenfeld, the director of the MIT Center for Bits and Atoms, is working to democratise the way we design and produce tangible objects. Just like personal computers have become a part of contemporary life, personal fabrication is currently changing the way we think about shaping the physical world around us. Neil’s global Fab-Lab movement has been a spearhead in this development, providing open-access maker spaces with equipment ranging from 3D-printers to laser-cutters to citizens around the globe. But this is only the beginning. Neil and his group are devising machines that combine different manufacturing methods in order to produce “almost anything”, turning digital models into programmed reality and digitizing the actual construction of things by coding and programming digital materials. At Falling Walls, Neil provides insights into a future where Star Trek replicators and machines that make machines unleash human creativity on a new scale.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Neil Gershenfeld is the director of the Center for Bits and Atoms at MIT, a cross-disciplinary unit which involves research groups from across campus: biologists, chemists, physicists, mathematicians and various kinds of engineers. With his team he focuses on breaking down the boundaries between the realms of the digital and the physical. He is the initiator of Fab Lab, a worldwide movement that gives communities access to prototype tools for personal fabrication and is showing that we are today at the verge of Star Trek-style replicators and programmable reality.