Predicting the Future

I have been writing for some time about the implications of 3D printing with the result that some of my articles posted here at have been re-printed in various places on the Net under other persons’ bylines. If you look in the text, however, my name and are always included in the fine print, showing the true authorship. No matter. The implications of 3D printing are huge and need to be disseminated whatever the source, and whatever the attribution.

Someone once said: “Prediction is difficult–especially about the future.” Thirty years ago while a student at UT in Austin, I worked on a Control Data mainframe. The buzz at the time was that “the computer revolution is over” and there would soon be no more jobs in the field, so you may as well study something else. In the late 1980′s I watched droves leave the computer science field saying “there are no more jobs in computing” and “the computer revolution is over”. Then the Internet hit. A professor of computer science at Rice University told me at the time: “Glenn, you told me last year that the Internet would be big, and I was skeptical. You were right. I could not see what was happening because I was too busy trying to track every change in the field. I was too close to the trees to see the forest.” Within 2 years, I began selling computers over the Internet in competition with Dell, founding a company called Diablo Computers.

When I entered graduate school at Rice I contacted several electronics distributors searching for a scanning pen that I could run across the pages of books and record text for later study. The reply was always the same: no such device exists, and it is impossible to make such a device because memory hardware will never be small enough to accommodate such a large stream of text. My expectations that such a device will ever appear was doomed to disappointment, they said… Two years later scanning pens were on the market and I bought one Article by Glenn Roberts

Last January 2013 I approached an investment advisor at a party who had shepherded many investment ideas to a successful conclusion for various investors. We got onto the subject of 3D printers. He had never seen one, but knew they were useful for making plastic toys. When I predicted that 3D printers would one day be capable of making guns, he burst out in laughter: “That will never happen! There is no way that a little plastic can ever withstand the high psi of a gun barrel. 3D printers are only toymakers.” With that, he smirked and walked away…..A few weeks later someone in north Texas used a cheap consumer 3D printer to create a gun that fired bullets. He made a video of the event, and posted the instructions on his website until Charles Schumer of the U.S. Senate make a public threat for him to remove the instructions asap or the U.S. would find some legal way to prosecute him! Now guns made with 3D printers are appearing everywhere. And yes, they work.

For those who look at today’s primitive consumer 3D printers and see only a tinker-toy maker, I say have faith in the engineers and look to the future. The future is especially hard to predict, but the outlines are clear if you watch the trend. That trend is aiming to put a cheap but effective 3D printer in the home of every middle-class person in America, and much faster than during the computer revolution. Just like desktop computers, they won’t be specialized, but highly flexible, with a thousand different possible products, drawing on the hundreds of free STL files that are appearing weekly on the Net. 3D printers in fact will be the new desktop computer, enabling a huge market opportunity for whichever boxmaker understands this and can rapidly redesign their desktop models with the 3D printing feature as their main focus. Just today Microsoft announced that Windows 8.1 will include 3D printing software–a hasty addition to already issued Windows 8.0. I guarantee that everyone reading this blog will own a 3D printer within 5 years. Glenn Roberts 7/24/13.




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