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MARK R. HATCH

THE MAKER REVOLUTION

BUILDING A FUTURE ON CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION IN AN EXPONENTIAL WORLD

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Introduction: The Maker Revolution

BOOM! The greatest explosion of innovation and creativity in all human history is upon us. Radical advances in 3D printing, biosciences, artificial intelligence, robotics, computer science, pharmacology, physics, material science, network and communications, education, tool use and access to knowledge, markets, financing, and communities are driving the fastest and largest leap forward we have ever experienced. And best of all, this revolution is open to almost everyone. That's right, this revolution is one that the average person will be able to participate in and reap the rewards of participating. This is a unique time in human history that offers a fundamentally positive transformative potential. I hope by the end of the book you will not only agree with me, but join the revolution. BOOM!

Everything around us is changing. Everything. The past is no longer a reliable guide to the future. Yes, there are some terrifying trends and scary new technologies, and some technologies can be misused. But after being immersed in the technology and trends of the future for more than thirty years, I've become more optimistic about the future, not less. And while it is human nature to see and anticipate negative outcomes, or to focus on worst-case scenarios, we can (re)train ourselves to see opportunities and look for potentially positive outcomes.

These trends are so broad and deep that they will touch every aspect of our lives. I see direct impacts on work, play, home, sleep, sports, language, personal identity, spirituality—on everything…and that is just with progress we have seen with artificial intelligence in the last couple of years. There is no corner of human existence that will not change over the next twenty years. Not one.

For much of the last decade, I have been a leader in one of the most remarkable revolutions, the Maker Movement. I've had an opportunity to be at or near the forefront of many of the revolutions in the recent past. During the personal computer revolution, in the early 1980s, I ran an interactive multimedia software/hardware company before multimedia was a thing. I launched one of the first fifty Fortune 500 corporate websites in the mid-1990s, democratized access to printing technology as a product management director at Kinko's just prior to the first dot-com boom and bust, and drove both an online health benefits website and a software-as-services back-office platform in the 2000s during and after Web 1.0. After 2007 I became a leader in the Maker Movement, and from that perch and through personal interest I've become embedded in a far-ranging group of activities, people, organizations, companies, and “crazies” (in the best sense of the word) who are creating the future. I'm not trying to brag (I don't think), just trying to build context for where I'm coming from. I'm far from the success I seek, but I'm grateful for the opportunity to live and work in what I am convinced is the most remarkable time to be alive in human history.

A major theme of this book will be rooted in the Maker Movement and what it means for you and society. But the Maker Movement is operating within the context of exponential technological innovation, and it is riding the wave of change being driven by these exponential technologies. As such, I will also cover the exponential technology that is the impetus for much of the change within the movement. It is impossible to grasp the coming impact of the Maker Movement without this background. I will leverage my experience as an adjunct faculty member at Singularity University for this section, with shout-outs to Ray Kurzweil, Peter Diamantes, Salem Ismael, Peter Van Geest, Rob Nail, Jonathan Knowells, David Kraft, Vivek Wadhwa, and others involved there.

THE MAKER MOVEMENT—A QUICK SURVEY

The Maker Movement started in 2004 with the initial publication of Make: magazine by O'Reilly Publishing. Dale Daugherty is recognized as the founder of the movement, with the support of Tim O'Reilly, founder and CEO of O'Reilly Media and the chronicler, instigator, and founder of not a few movements himself. Maker Media has spun out of O'Reilly and remains the go-to resource for all things maker-ish. In 2006, Dale and Dan Woods (now CEO of TechShop in my old role) launched the first Maker Faire at the San Mateo, California, fairgrounds and started the practice of bringing participants of the nascent industry together at an annual festival of maker celebration, networking, and conversation. It has exploded.

These annual celebrations are kind of like a state fair, but they trade out the animals for robots, geeks, steampunk outfits, and propane-driven fire spectacles. At the first Faire, about 25,000 people showed up. Since then it's grown like crazy. More than 150,000 people attended the Bay Area Maker Faire in 2016, and there are now also major Maker Faires in New York City and Chicago as well as over thirty featured Faires and hundreds of Mini Maker Faires held around the globe each year.

These events are wonderful exhibitions of human creativity, ingenuity, and possibility.

Have you ever seen a rock band supported by 500,000-amp Tesla coils? The performers must wear metal mesh suits to protect themselves from the bolts of lightning striking their bodies and instruments. They “play” the coils. High notes are hit by raising a hand up high and low notes played by holding the hands low. Dual notes from the pair of coils can be played at the same time. A few years ago we were able to get Mike Rowe, of Dirty Jobs fame, to step into the phone booth–sized box on stage between the coils and get (safely) zapped by massive bolts of deadly lightning. My favorite “art” piece a couple of years ago was a Burning Man performance art mobile, a flaming steampunk octopus. Imagine a fifteen-foot metal octopus outfitted with a massive sound system and huge propane tanks, shooting fifteen-foot streaming bursts of flaming propane out of each arm and its head. This is not your father's state fair. This is mixed up with kids ages eight to eighty bouncing around booths stuffed with crafts, robots, advanced manufacturing gear, fire, and homemade everything.

There are so many R2-D2 robots at Maker Faires, an entire corral is set aside for them. Yes, an R2-D2 corral. Kids can learn how to solder, make a “blinky light,” and pick locks…all before lunch. Maker Faire is a celebration of all things “STEAM” (science, technology, engineering, art, mathematics). At a Maker Faire, you can listen to panels on how to open your own makerspace, become a citizen scientist, use your 3D printer for printing prosthetics, and see practical uses for drones. You can attend “power tool races” (not for the faint of heart) where they do a “fifty-yard dash” with over-powered belt sanders and circular saws. The racer places an amped-up, highly modified, circular saw on the ground between two rails, with a fifty-yard electric cord that spools out as the saw careens from one side of the track to the other. The blades cut into the ground and then launch down the track at terrifying speeds, bouncing off the walls…which usually but not always hold these spinning tools of instant death. I'm waiting for the chainsaw races. And not the kind where you cut down a tree.

Then there is the model military boat competition where large replicas of combat destroyers sink one another with cannons blasting away in a big pool while spectators cheer the mayhem. You can also watch a life-sized game of Mouse Trap® that ends with a multiton safe dropping onto an increasingly unrecognizable automobile. My only surprise here is that some automobile company hasn't sponsored the destruction of one or more of their competitors' cars. Can you imagine?

At Maker Faire, you will meet representatives from some of the largest brands showing off their new tech, fun tech, and just plain weird tech. Companies like GE, Pepsi, Intel, Microsoft, Google, and others routinely come out to play. Certainly, their employees are present in droves.

It's not all destruction and play. The primary function of the Maker Movement to date has been infecting a generation of young people with a desire to learn how to make things. This translates into creating more and more kids who want to be artists and engineers. I kind of like seeing Maker Faire as ground zero for the creation of a new renaissance. If you haven't been to one of the big ones, you need to book it. It's a looking glass into the future.

TECHSHOP, AN OPEN-ACCESS DIY WORKSHOP AND FABRICATION STUDIO

My introduction to TechShop came at geek party that DEMO cofounder Chris Shipley held in the Silicon Valley in late fall 2007. I overheard TechShop founder Jim Newton say, “It's like Kinko's for geeks.” Kinko's was the chain of copy shops that Paul Orfalea and friends had started (and eventually sold to leveraged buyout company Clayton, Dubilier & Rice…who eventually sold it to FedEx). I had had a short but memorable stint at Kinko's. My team was involved in pulling high-speed Internet to every location, launching the e-commerce portion of Kinkos.com and developing the first suite of “print-to-Kinko's” applications.

I eventually cornered Jim and asked him to describe TechShop. He said it was just like Kinko's except that instead of giving people access to office equipment, he was giving people access to manufacturing tools. Or, as I like to describe them, the tools of the Industrial Revolution. I didn't really believe it at first.

“Really?” I asked. “TechShop lets random people they've never met use welding machines, metal lathes, table saws, drill presses, and the like?”

“Yes,” said Jim. “After safety training.”

I had to see this place. It sounded like the future.

I'm one of those guys who tend to live in the future. Living in an unrealized future has a lot of downsides. During my short stint in the military (Fifth Special Forces Group, Green Berets), one of my favorite lessons was “never mistake a clear view for a short distance.” In the desert that mistake will kill you. In the mountains, it might not kill you, but it will make your life miserable. The key to living in an unrealized future is to minimize your burn, have lots of great partners, and have access to cash while you wait for the rest of the world to catch up.

I went to visit Jim at the first TechShop location, in Menlo Park, California. It had been open for about a year, had about 150 members, and was the pioneer of what eventually became known as “makerspaces.” Eventually I became a cofounder of the company and a leader in the Maker Movement. At the time though, I knew nothing about the space.

For those of you who have not been to a TechShop, imagine twenty thousand square feet staffed and stuffed with all the equipment, training space, and members needed to make almost anything on the planet. Even with only the start of a membership pool (we would eventually target eight hundred to a thousand members per location), it was clear to me that Jim and cofounder Ridge McGhee (no longer in the picture) were on to something.

After spending a day on-site and meeting various entrepreneurs who collectively told me that they had saved 97 percent of their startup costs by using the TechShop platform, I knew that makerspaces would one day be in every city on the planet. William Gibson's quote came to mind, “The future is already here—it's just not very evenly distributed.”

Though we still have a long way to go, we are clearly on a trajectory to place makerspaces not just in every city, but also in every school. But I'm getting a little ahead of myself again.

I joined Jim and eventually became a cofounder of TechShop, and with a very talented group of fellow makers we grew it to forty times its size, attracted tens of millions dollars in investment, and brought the company to thirteen locations on four continents with partners including GE, Ford, Autodesk, Samsung, DARPA, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Lowe's, Leroy Merlin, and many others. I had the privilege of meeting President Barack Obama, visiting the White House and the Roosevelt Room within the White House, and—most importantly—getting to know some of the most amazing and exciting makers, heroes, unsung heroes, and other amazing people from around the world who make up the Maker Movement.

These were the early days, though. Most of the amazing things that have happened were not clear or on the horizon yet.

At the time, TechShop charged $100 for a monthly membership, with discounts for annual memberships and unlimited access to tools you'd been cleared on. It was and is an amazing deal. (At Kinko's we charged $36 an hour just for access to a design computer.) We derived immense satisfaction from building a community of makers in every location we opened.

It was like building a beehive: We needed the physical infrastructure to house the hive, but it was the members that added the value. And once we reached three hundred members or so, magic happened. TechShop went from being a place where someone needed to be in order to get their work done to being the only place people wanted to be to work.

A catalytic action happens at around three to five hundred members. When you are in a major city and you have thirty to fifty people on-site at any given time, a person is two degrees of separation from success. If a TechShop dream consultant (DC) doesn't have the answer to your question, there is someone else on-site, at that moment, who does.

I've seen this play out so many times that it feels normal to me.

“Hi, I'm having some trouble with sourcing,” said a TechShop member to a DC that I was having a conversation with. “I recently learned that some woods are treated with arsenic as a preservative, and I don't want arsenic in my final product. I'm not sure what to do.”

The DC didn't have the background to answer the question. “I'm not really an expert in sourcing,” he said, “But let's see who is here tonight.” He eyed the room. Sure enough…

“Ha, you see that member over there?” Pointing to someone across the room. “Let me introduce you to him; he does all the sustainable sourcing for Restoration Hardware—you know, the large furniture retailer and manufacturer. I'll bet he can help you sort it out. And if he can't, Autodesk has a sustainable manufacturing expert on staff, and as a partner of theirs, we can hook you up with them.” BOOM!

Problem solved.

Another time, similar situation…

“I'm having trouble with my manufacturing design,” announced a member. “Specifically, the size of the screws I'm using for my water-resistant watch. My Chinese manufacturer keeps messing up.”

The DC on duty responded, “Well, let's see who's here tonight…Um, there's someone from Frog (a global hardware design and strategy firm), and someone from Ideo (another top design firm) is over there. Oh, and there's one of my friends from Apple—let's go talk to him. But if that doesn't work, we just announced a partnership with Flex, the second-largest contract manufacturing company in the world, and they have a service offering called ‘sketch to scale.’ They have thousands of engineers who specialize in exactly the kind of this you are trying to do.” BOOM!

Now, when I started at TechShop, none of these things were in place…but they are now. Chris Anderson, former editor of Wired and current founder and CEO of 3D Drones, likes to say, “If you can imagine it, you can build it.” Indeed, one can. You and I currently operate in a world where just about anything can be crowdsourced—knowledge, money, manufacturing, markets…you name it. But we were in the early days.

As we were slowly growing TechShop, a steady stream of interesting people kept coming through the doors. Venture capitalists, most of whom don't, won't, and refuse to invest in hardware companies. Writers like Ashlee Vance, then with the New York Times, now with Bloomberg and the author of the New York Times bestseller on tech billionaire/entrepreneur/inventor Elon Musk, came through and immediately saw the power of a makerspace. Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs and Deadliest Catch attended an early Maker Faire and eventually featured TechShop in an episode of CNN's Somebody's Gotta Do It. Many, many others visited the shop. Importantly, so did many early makerspace innovators that I will highlight in later chapters.

Here is the most important idea, though:

The tools of this new industrial revolution are cheaper, more powerful, and easier to use than any other tools in human history, by at least one or maybe even two orders of magnitude. And when someone drops the cost of producing a product by 97 to 99 percent, they have fundamentally changed the world.

In her original work on the Internet, Mary Meeker likened the World Wide Web to the construction of nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century canals (think of the Erie Canal and the Illinois and Michigan Canal) that reduced the cost of commodities transportation from Chicago to the East Coast by 97 percent. We are living through a similar discontinuity now as the cost to create a sophisticated prototype of an idea has dropped in many cases by over 97 percent. Better, the speed with which one can get to that prototype has also accelerated exponentially. If you have access to the tools, you can produce it today. BOOM!

This new reality, where tools are cheap and easy to use, attracted a group of early adopters, writers, producers, futurists, evangelists, and dreamers.

Inc. magazine did the first piece on TechShop, but it was the US-based nonprofit think tank The Institute for the Future (IFTF), and Bob Johansen specifically, that really began to understand the makerspace's transformational impact on making, fabrication, mass manufacturing, and culture. Bob pulled a steady stream of Fortune 100 companies and international conglomerates into the Menlo Park facility to expose them to this new way of doing things. Eventually, Ashlee Vance's piece in the New York Times led to a collaboration between TechShop and Ford Motor Company that would expand TechShop's reach outside the Bay Area and propel Ford on a five-year odyssey to become the largest patent creator of its peers. In 2008, IFTF published a forecast on The Future of Making that included TechShop in it. We became the daily instantiation of the Maker Movement for their clients to experience.

When you drop the cost to build a prototype by 97 percent, what was once a $100,000 cost becomes a $3,000 one. A $100,000 invention is only available to the most dedicated, wealthy, risk embracers or to the insane. But at $3,000? Almost anyone can pursue their dream for $3,000. In roughly ten years, we have moved from a place where only the wealthiest and most well-connected people and corporations could afford to invent to an era in which almost anyone can. I will expand on this reality over the coming chapters, but this is truly miraculous.

War, insurrections, revolutions, and massive displacements of people took place as a result of the Industrial Revolution moving the center of production and innovation out of homes and small businesses into large, well-funded enterprises. (Even Communists moved production to centralized facilities.) Now, in a very short period of time during the early stages of the twenty-first century, we have begun reversing important unassailable truths (not all, or even most, but enough to tangibly change an innovator's calculus) and realities of the previous centuries' assumptions about innovation.

More on this later.

MY INTRODUCTION TO EXPONENTIAL TECHNOLOGY

Early on at TechShop, we had visitors from Singularity University (SU). Founded in 2008 by Peter Diamandis and Ray Kurzweil at the NASA Research Park in California, SU is founded on Ray's book, The Singularity Is Near, which I read as soon as it came out in 2006. At SU they study and proselytize the view that we are experiencing rapid, exponential, technological acceleration across a number of domains. They (and I as an adjunct faculty member) espouse that it is difficult to fathom exponential change. There is little in our day-to-day experience that prepares us for this pace of change. The people at SU began taking tours of TechShop and eventually settled on a combination of a presentation and a robot-building group experience for their students.

Sometime earlier, a TechShop staff member had approached me to tell me that our “Lasers and Beer” and “Welding and Wine” experience events were getting boring. Initially, I wasn't convinced—how could power tools and alcohol be boring? I mean, what is NASCAR other than powerful machines, alcohol, and potential promise of a mishap? But I had to hand it to the staff—they not only wanted to create a robot-building group experience, but they wanted combat robots that would fight it out to the death in an MMA-style double-elimination competition. This quickly became one of TechShop's signature group events. And it fit the SU crowd perfectly. What better way to demonstrate the new exponential reality than to take a room full of tech newbies and wannabes with limited to no technical capabilities at all and then have them build their own combat robots in one evening? BOOM!

Singularity University (not an accredited institution simply because accreditation by nature takes longer to achieve than the amount of time that the technology they are studying takes to become obsolete) focuses on rapidly changing technology that is transforming the human experience, and even dabbles with technology that is changing what it means to be human. This exponential reality is the backdrop for this book. Much of the technology that is working on an exponential curve is being driven by the Internet and computing, both of which are driven by Moore's law.1 The exponential change that we have been experiencing in computers is now also demonstrated in other fields, such as biotech, nanotech, materials science, robots, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, and advanced manufacturing, among other technologies.

These trends, the technology driving the singularity, a friction-free new reality that we are operating in, and the Maker Movement itself, require a new way of thinking and operating. It demands new policies for cities, counties, states, and nations. It changes the way we teach and sometimes what we teach. This engine is already changing the world in profound ways. We are seeing an explosion in innovation and creativity. BOOM!

Mark R. Hatch
San Francisco, California

NOTE

SECTION 1
Trends That Are Driving the Maker Revolution