"For anyone who has ever written a book on technology," the science writer Melba Kurman tells Big Think, "one of the biggest struggles is 12 months after you start." You may have finished your book, but by then it’s already a little bit passé. Kurman, the co-author, along with Hod Lipson, of Fabricated: The New World of 3D Printing, says this problem is particularly true in the rapidly developing field of additive manufacturing, or 3D printing.
"The technology is moving at an accelerated pace" Kurman says, "not just because it’s reaching a point where things are starting to tip over into mainstream use, but 3-D printing is essentially what you could call a platform technology."
So what you have is a convergence of technologies, or what Kurman calls a perfect storm:
If you think about all the forces that are starting to now accelerate the technological advancement, we’ve got ever-improving design software. We've got shrinking components, electronic components so these printers themselves are getting cheaper and cheaper and smaller. And then of course we have the Internet and then rapidly improving materials. So when you put all of these things together it creates a perfect storm. And then 3-D printing as a platform technology starts to drag everything else with it.
And so a good way to think (and talk) about rapid innovation is to use the phrase that it’s been 'worn smooth by a million tongues.' In other words, you need to consider all the forces that are surrounding 3-D printing, Kurman says, "not just the technology but also all of the sorts of playful and innovative business models and applications people are doing." This kind of activity is similar to the level of innovation swirling around the app market for iPhones. "People are just making things move faster and faster and faster," Kurman says. "So trying to catch 3-D printing in a moment of time means that once you’ve managed to catch your moment in time, you’re already at that point obsolete."
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