Skynet… in 3D…. for Real!

I try to tread lightly when talking about politics. Although I try to follow political discourse closely, there is plenty I miss.  So while someone might be able to find the specific text of the speech and clarify around my impression, my impression remains nonetheless.

When President Obama gave his State of the Union address, he used the word “innovation,” like it was going out of style – a pretty ironic way to use a word with that meaning!  Yet, the actual images I took away from the speech included: Sputnik, high speed trains, solar power, and nuclear power. All technologies that have been around for several decades!

This was problematic to me for a few reasons. First, in 2008, shortly after the final two candidates were announced, John McCain came out with an ad touting his service in Vietnam, and contrasting it to liberal hippy types. The reference to the 60s made me feel weary. “Can we please move into the 21st Century?” was my reaction.  I believe this was why Obama was known as the “post-boomer” candidate. Naturally, I was disappointed to hear the President use Sputnik as a frame of reference in his 2011 State of the Union Address.

Second, it made him seem distant from the inventive business community.  I haven’t heard about any innovations in solar or nuclear power. Improvements, I’d imagine. Potential for more use, sure. But neither of these things are innovations. When I do think of innovations in the world of energy, I think of things such as deep sea drilling and extraction, which I learned about when I researched an oil and gas conference, and hydrofracking, which is of local interest for those of living in the Catskill Watershed, and I covered as a reporter.  Needless to say, both deep sea oil drilling and hydrofracking carry their share of objectionable environmental risk, which is probably why they weren’t mentioned. Obviously, President Obama was pandering to the alternative energy crowd with his examples.

But to me, it felt like maybe he had no better examples of innovation.

It really was a disappointing omission, only highlighted after reading the cover stories on this week’s Time and Economist magazines, about the potential actualization of the legendary singularity of artificial intelligence

All that horsepower could be put in the service of emulating whatever it is our brains are doing when they create consciousness — not just doing arithmetic very quickly or composing piano music but also driving cars, writing books, making ethical decisions, appreciating fancy paintings, making witty observations at cocktail parties.

and this new technology of 3 D printing.

Little by little a machine is “printing” a complex titanium landing-gear bracket, about the size of a shoe, which normally would have to be laboriously hewn from a solid block of metal. Brackets are only the beginning. The researchers at Filton have a much bigger ambition: to print the entire wing of an airliner.

Far-fetched as this may seem, many other people are using three-dimensional printing technology to create similarly remarkable things. These include medical implants, jewelery, football boots designed for individual feet, lampshades, racing-car parts, solid-state batteries and customized mobile phones.

While I’ve been preparing the singularity for years, having been amply warned, the 3D printing concept blows my mind. I’m trying to imagine a decade or so from now when commerce has been revolutionized, making last decade’s online shopping revolution seem like a cumbersome, ancient way of doing things (like using a messenger service to send documents). Combined with advanced artificial intelligence, it looks like machines may soon both conceive of new products and create them right in our own homes!


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