The new digital economy (Part 1)
Karolyn Hart / February 1, 2013
In the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation, fans of the show were introduced to “The Replicator”, a 24th century advancement device that allowed the user to replicate any inanimate matter. The idea of this type of technology existing was something that was clearly seen as pure science fiction – until it became our present day reality in the form of 3-D printing.
If 3-D printing is not yet on your radar it will be shortly. 3-D printing is a process of making three-dimensional solid objects from a digital model. What is unique about it is that its portability allows it to be more accessible and flexible. Imagine a world, if you will, where you design a multi-dimensional toy for your child and then it is created on your 3-D printer.
Sound crazy? During the Smart Cities Summit held in Toronto last week, 3-D printing was a hot topic as thought leaders tried to predict the impact that this new digital technology would have on a traditional manufacturing and the global economy in the future. As a result industry professionals are scrambling to answer a host of questions including:
- Will this enable a new economy of “distributed manufacturing”?
- How will communities legislate the use of this technology? If people set these up in their garages, how will cities respond to the potential smells?
- Will this compete with existing manufacturers or create a new economy all together?
What Star Trek never explored was the complications of introducing these types of new technologies into the economies of their day. Already, a congressman in New York is proposing a ban on 3-D printed guns and other voices are warning of the dangers of not properly controlling this technology.
The region where I live has a particular interest in following 3-D printing developments as we are also the leader in Advanced Manufacturing for North America. However, it also uniquely places us to be the voice of reason. The reality is that a typical 3-D printer can cost about $4,000 and is really being employed by hobbyists and makers. While “distributed manufacturing” sounds like an exciting buzz word, the fact is that our local industry brings with it skilled talent and expertise.
What we know from history is that the introduction of a new technology does not always mean the destruction of an existing economy. For example, when home printers became popular they predicted people would no longer require print services. That said, we must be prepared as it was pointed out at the conference that we can be sure that change is inevitable and that reinvention involves destruction. Creativity, by its very nature, destroys the old ways of doing things to make room for the new. As HG Wells so aptly stated “Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative.”
In part 2 of “The New Digital Economy” we will continue to look at the impact that the digital economy is having in transforming economies around the world and what we can learn from history on responding to technologies that change the world in which we live.