Full text of technologist Stuart Grover’s talk: Materialism is Dying at TEDxManly conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here:
Stuart Grover – Technologist and entrepreneur
I’m a technologist and entrepreneur, and I believe that the end of materialism is in sight.
By materialism I mean, the preoccupation with material things and all the problems that come with it.
I believe that in the future, the only things with real value are ideas and designs. The reason I think materialism is dying is because I work all day, every day, with a relatively new technology called 3D printing. I’m sure you’ve all seen or heard about it in the press, as it’s really captured the imagination of the world’s media.
In essence it is a technology which creates things layer by layer, with little to no human involvement.
Now, let me show you two images. On the left, you have an ornate vase, and on the right, you have a brick. We rightfully have the view that the vase is a desirable possession. We can see that work has gone into producing the vase. It’s probably been handcrafted, hand-painted, transported, and stored with care. It would have been sold in a high-end shop, where it would have been bought by a wealthy customer, who’d fallen in love with the item because of what it represents.
The brick, on the other hand, has no real value. It was probably produced along with tens of thousands of other bricks, and thrown on a lorry. It would have been stored outside, until somebody came along and bought it along with many others.
What if I was to tell you that if you ask me to print you these two items, I charge you about ten times more for the brick than the vase? Why? Because it has more volume, therefore ties my machines at for longer and uses more materials.
See, one of the beauties of 3D printing is that complexity comes for free. 3d printers, computers don’t care how complex you design your objects. They just carry out instructions. The bigger the object, the longer it takes to carry out those instructions. Therefore, the more it costs me and the more I charge you.
So, the end of materialism, isn’t that going to leave a big hole? If a Rolex watch can be easily reproduced, if a van cost more to print than a Porsche, if a duffle coat is worth more than a cocktail dress, if an ornate vase has more value than a brick.
When everything can be made anywhere at any time, what is left with value? Ideas are most basic human currencies what is left. Whoever owns those ideas, whoever can manifest those ideas as a design, will be the real winner in our brave new world.
Today, I’m not going to print you a Porsche. it will still be cheaper for you to go to a dealer and buy one which has been made in Germany and shipped over, but the signs are there that this may change. More and more parts for cars are being 3D printed. And no 3D printers cost the same to buy and run in Australia, as they do in Germany.
If, in the future, Porsche are kind enough to open-source their designs, it would be better for all if we produce them here, because it would remove the economic and environmental costs of shipping them over.
But I don’t think Porsche are going to do that in a hurry, because that design has value today, and even more so in the future. The reality is that today, 3D printing is still quite expensive and slow. This is changing though, at an unprecedented rate.
Last month at the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas, 3D printers really stole the show. There was a host of new printers released. And their capability, compared to what was released last year, is a giant leap forward. It’s getting harder to justify spending a hundred thousand dollars on a printer, when you can now get much the same capability for five thousand dollars or less.
We all saw this with computers, right? Businesses would go out there and buy large mainframes which, by the time they got around to replacing them, would be out powered by your smartphone.
So, how many years until we can print that ornate vase? Well we can, today; following a release of a new printer which, for under $10,000, will print in ceramics. And guess what? It doesn’t take a skilled artisan; it’s just a matter of hitting print. First, so you need that idea that design the file to print.
Today, the materials we use have value, and this contributes towards the cost of the overall objects we desire. When we produce things using traditional manufacturing, we generally start with a block and trim away, until we get the object we want. During this process, we waste a lot of the material.
3D printing is different. Objects are produced layer by layer. So, the amounts of material required is substantially less, and the cost for that material is a lot less.