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WikiRebels: A WikiLeaks Documentary

Some thoughts on 3-D printing…

Makerbot Cupcake

The Cupcake 3-D printer from MakerBot, which achieved self-replication a few months ago.

Rafael Cabral, a journalist working for the Brazilian newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo, interviewed me this week for a piece on 3-D printing. He kindly gave me permission to publish the interview here too:

Do you think that everyone will have a desktop 3D printer? If so when? How distant to “downloading sneakers” are we?

It’s certainly technically possible to have one already. Companies like MakerBot are already shipping them to people worldwide. Whether or not they will become mainstream is primarily a cultural question – there are a lot of cool technologies we could be using that just never really caught on in a huge way, like the Segway for example. But as 3-D printers become more versatile and useful, it makes sense that more people would want to use them. I still think we are at least a decade or so away from a downloadable sneaker that should worry the likes of Nike.

What are the major challenges for the popularization of this technology? Do you think that the industry and brands are interested in the development of domestic 3D printers? Or worried?

Right now 3-D printers don’t really have a killer app. Music was the killer app for the internet – filesharing was the thing that really made the internet seem so cool and powerful and disruptive. Right now the closest thing 3-D printers have is being able to print out your World of Warcraft avatar, which is not as cool as free music. Free downloadable sneakers would do it for sure, but I think it will be something simpler first. Bottle openers maybe, a lot of people with 3-D printer are making those already, and a bottle opener is definitely a social object.

There are some large 3-D printer manufacturers out there who want nothing more than to see this all go mainstream and become the new Apples and Microsofts of the world. When you talk to them, they are really excited about the possibilities and what might happen. I don’t think a lot of people feel threatened by 3-D printers yet, because the threat isn’t there yet. None of the record labels felt threatened by the concept of the internet in the 1980s. Most of them weren’t worried in the 1990s either.

The major implications of the popularization of 3D printers are economic and legal. What do you think that will happen if we create technologies capable of allowing citizens to replace much of the historical industrial-era supply chain? Too dystopic or the old economy can try to make it illegal, like they did with file-sharing?

I think there will be some serious pushback from some powerful communities over 3-D printing, if it catches on. It could upset shipping, all kinds of manufacturing and supply-chain businesses, the entire manufacturing process potentially. That would mean more new economic thinking and business models, the kind of thinking we still haven’t figured out for the digital world. It basically means all of the problems of the internet spilling into the real world. But also all of the possibilities. It won’t be the end of capitalism – It is just as likely to lead to some amazing new businesses and economic ideas as it is to destroy some old systems. It’s an opportunity, not a problem.

In Pirate’s Dilemma, Adrian Bowyer said that “engineering has been making things wrongly since the industrial revolution” – I think he was talking about self-replicating 3D printers. Do you agree with his quote? Is it interesting for the technological industry to sell printers that can create others printers?

He meant that nature has always been more efficient at reproducing than our machines have. The self-replicating machine is indeed a conundrum for “industry” as we’ve come to define it. If such a machine were to become mainstream,we would find ourselves making only two things – raw materials and information, which scares people. But on the other hand, aren’t those the only two things we’ve ever made? And those aren’t the things we sell. We sell people stories about the things we make, which isn’t going to change because of 3-D printers. I think people will always buy something if it comes with a good story, it doesn’t matter where it’s made really. Nike doesn’t own any sneaker factories – and they spend way more money of branding and advertising than they do on making shoes. We already live in a world where the story is the only thing worth anything.

Have you read Chris Anderson’s piece about the new industrial revolution (open source, small factorys, 3D printers)? What do you think about his idea? A new model of production can rise?

I think Chris may, as usual, be on to something. A new model of production based on 3-D printing is already there, it’s just very, very small at the moment. It’s growing for sure, but whether or not it becomes the dominant force in manufacturing depends on many things that have nothing to do with how good the technology is. It’s hard to predict where 3-D printing will end up because there are so many cultural and social factors we can’t predict. We live in a world where politicians make decisions because people give them bags of money or send their wives boxes of cookies. Big decisions about what is acceptable or allowed aren’t always governed by rational thought, or what’s the best way for us to move forward as a society. The one thing that is certain is this technology is improving very quickly. If it continues to do so, we will have some important decisions to make. But if there is one thing we’ve learned so far from the digtial age, it’s that technology that’s really good and really useful always seems to win out, even if it is forbidden.

The case for anonymity online

4chan founder Christopher Poole (aka moot) talks about the rise the internet’s most famous message board and why privacy is important. Would love to see a debate between moot and Zuckerberg.

P.S. – Sorry I haven’t been updating the blog as frequently as I used to. 99% of the things I used to put up here I now just put up on twitter, so you can always follow me there.

Mos Def launches album on t-shirt

Mos Def

Some artists get annoyed when “sell more t-shirts” is presented as a solution to beating pirates, which I can understand because it implies recorded music is worth nothing. But Mos Def has hit upon a way to do it which still gives the music value; the album is the t-shirt.

Def is putting out his latest album The Ecstatic as a shirt. The music tee has the album’s cover art on the front, tracklist on the back and a code for a downloadable version of the album on a tag. The medium (not to mention the S, L, XL and XXL) is the message.

I love this idea. This is a really authentic product that will mean something to fans and values everything the artist does. I’d like to see other things being used as media for digital content. A world where the format you release your work on is as bigger creative choice as the cover art is way more interesting than one where the only choices are CD/download.

More on this over at Paste.

This looks good


70′s FEVER from Frederic Lumiere on Vimeo.

Been working on a very cool 70′s project recently, missed this first time round but it’s repeating on the History Channel this weekend… Thanks Mark!

7 abundantly clear things about abundance


MY speech from Pop!Tech last week has just gone up. I talked about a few other things besides competing with pirates, including virtuous circles, a subject I’m getting really interested in. There were so many great speakers there – two others worth watching are Juan Enriquez’s “10 commandments” talk on the state of the economy, and Benjamin Zander, who was sort of talking about virtuous and vicious circles too, and was just incredible.

Back from Pop!Tech

Poptech

photo by Kris Krug

Last week I was in Camden, Maine for Pop!Tech. Every year a stellar line-up of speakers and performers gathers here to share seafood, inspiration and challenging ideas. Some of the smartest people in the world attended, showcasing world-changing non-profits, initiatives and technologies. It’s kind of like TED, but with better clam chowder.

I was lucky enough to be speaking alongside Clay Shirky and Chris Anderson, both of whom are working on some really interesting new ideas. Chris’ new book FREE sounds fantastic, as indeed was the sneak preview published by Wired earlier this year. The Pop!Tech videos aren’t up yet, but you can see Chris explain the idea in detail here. If you are competing with pirates, you are indeed competing with free, I can’t wait to see Chris’ take on this in full.

Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody, is one of the smartest people thinking and writing about the changes the internet is ushering in. His new work on cognitive surplus sounds awesome, there’s a new book coming he told me. Following him on stage was not easy.

Other highlights included Malcolm Gladwell (who is a sneaker head! Had a good chat with him about nike iDs), about to drop book number 3, Outliers, which looks incredible, and performances from Imogen Heap, who was amazing. I can’t do any of the people who were there justice, but all the talks should be up on the Pop!tech website soon, many of which I’ll be re-posting here. In the meantime here is Clay on cognitive surplus from earlier this year:

Cory Doctorow: Trying to kill pirates makes them stronger, blanket licenses are the only option.

Napster

Cory Doctorow is one of the smartest people currently writing about technology, see today’s piece from him in The Guardian if you don’t believe me. The backroom deal that just went down in the UK between ISPs and the major record labels is not good news for the future of the music business, or for the future of the internet, period. But Cory compellingly makes the case that the only real security blanket left for the entertainment industries, is the idea of the blanket license:

“It’s historically inevitable: whenever technology makes it impossible to police a class of copyright use, we’ve solved the problem by creating blanket licenses.

“The record industry itself was the first beneficiary of this system: when the US sheet-music publishers sued the record-makers for selling recordings of their compositions, they were given a simple solution: anyone is allowed to record your music, provided they pay you a set fee for it. No one has to pay a lawyer $500/hour to negotiate whether this track on this album will cost $0.10 per disc or $0.05. And when the record companies objected to the radio stations playing their discs without compensation or permission, the answer was a blanket licence for records played on air. It’s the tried-and-true answer to the problem of copyright-disrupting technology:

* acknowledge that it’s going to happen;

* find a place to collect a toll;

* charge a fee that’s low enough to get buy-in from the majority;

* ignore the penny-ante fee evaders;

* sue the blistering crap out of the big-time fee-evaders.

“This is the shareholder-value-maximising answer that actually brings revenue into the pockets of artists and record companies. It co-opts the majority of filesharers into being active participants in a legitimate transaction instead of everyone starting off as outlaws who have nothing to lose and no reason to come to the bargaining table except for fear of legal reprisals (this fear is notoriously ineffective at moderating the behavior of children).

“Ten years ago, the record industry had a simple little problem they could have solved by showing a tiny amount of future-looking flexibility. A decade of intransigence and stubborness has bred a killer strain of antibiotic-resistant filesharing technology that grows more and more difficult to police by the year. The sheet music publishers didn’t get to control the destiny of the record companies, who couldn’t control the broadcasters, who couldn’t control the cable operators, who couldn’t control the VCR makers.

“The record industry will not be in charge of the characteristics of filesharing systems. They may get remunerated for their use, but they won’t be able to dictate their functionality, no matter how many children they criminalise. If they want to cash in on filesharing, they’d better do it soon, before every potential licence fee payer decides to opt out of the system forever.”

Read the whole thing here.

Hacking Detroit

Detroit

Detroit: Currently rebooting. Picture by PhotoFusion

Detroit, and the rest of the American economy, is in deep trouble. Drastic changes are taking place because of the skyrocketing price of oil, from GM shuttering plants to the nosediving airlines, but to fix the problems of towns like Detroit, it’s going to take more than an unlikely return to cheap gas prices.

I was so happy to see Obama finally clinch it last night, for so many reasons, but it’s going to take more than changes we can believe in. We need changes we can be involved in and instigate. To fix places like Detroit, faced with uncertain global economic conditions that change by the hour, we need systems that allow for change constantly. We need systems and organizations that can organize and reorganize at a moment’s notice. Companies and cities like Detroit need to become hackable. Ryan Holiday just pointed me in the direction of a great article on hacking industrial economies by Umair Haque over on the HBS site. Haque writes:

“Last week, I asked: how would you rethink a rusting, obsolete American auto industry?

“Let me rephrase that question, to illustrate why I asked it. I was really asking: how would you hack Detroit?

“The answers were (seriously) phenomenal: different approaches to hacking Detroit’s resources, capabilities, business model, and DNA.

“Why is that so important?

“Hacking wasn’t just a cultural phenomenon; a bunch of socially awkward dudes with even worse haircuts than investment bankers geeking out in their bedrooms. It was larger: a loose set of anti-management principles that unlocked innovative capacity companies couldn’t – and still can’t – match. Hacking was a radically different – and often hyperefficient – way to find big economic problems, and then solve them.

“And that’s exactly what we’ve been discussing: the malaise gripping the venture industry, because it’s seemingly unable to find and solve big problems. One of the reasons today’s revolutionaries are failing is because they’re losing perhaps the most essential part of their DNA: they’re forgetting what it means to hack stuff.”

It’s a good read. I think there is also another side to the point above about the venture industry. The VC business and the record industry for that matter, and many other industries besides, are not solving the big problems as well because we have other ways to solve them. We don’t necessarily need an encyclopedia company to make an encyclopedia (See Clay Shirky’s excellent book for more on this). You don’t need a $100,000 video and a fleet of trucks loaded with plastic discs in jewel cases, headed to stores you have to pay to display your plastic discs, to get a great song out there. And you don’t always need a VC firm to scale a good idea. You just need the idea.

Meaning and ideas have long been spoken of as currencies, but it seems to me their value is going through the roof while the value of hard currency is falling. Companies create value by privatizing some idea that starts as social capital – like a form of youth culture which is co-opted to sell sneakers. Sometimes this works out, and the company adds value to the culture as well as making money (see: the surf, skate and snowboard industries). Sometimes it doesn’t, and the culture becomes a bloated corporate parody of itself (see: disco). But now we are finding new ways to create value without traditional companies, and some problems that could previously only be solved with private capital can be addressed with social capital.

Take Zipcar founder Robin Chase’s latest venture, GoLoco.org for example – a great combination of carpooling and social networking. Go Loco hacked Detroit by creating a new layer of social capital on top of the value created by cars. I’m sure business is booming for them given the current price of gas. Of course by ‘business’, I mean the amount of social capital they are creating, but that means the private capital saved can be used in other ways. The money saved on gas can be spent somewhere else. Using social capital to unlock new forms of private capital, which in turn needs to be supportive of new layers of social capital, is a great way to build sustainable economies, and create dynamic systems which could regenerate rusting cities. A rising tide may indeed lift all cars.

Update

Apparently Detroit is already being hacked, for all the wrong reasons. Invincible and Finale made this music video/documentary hybrid rhyme about the impacts of gentrification on the Motor City. This piece includes interviews with community activists discussing displacement and predatory planning versus sustainable development in the D. Thanks to Dart for the heads up.

The Network is the Story

network is the story

I’ve was in LA last week talking to various people in the entertainment business about various things, and a subject that kept coming up was how the way we create stories is changing. Most forms of big media storytelling are one-to-many, but new forms of malleable media and new opportunities to create many-to-many networks are adding value to broadcast models, and the way they tell stories.

Stories that include their audiences in the creation process become more complex, go off on tangents and create new relationships between the broadcaster and the audience. Some even extend markets and product life spans. Giving the audience space to create their own stories within the broadcast story is a great way to create mass media. Instead of creating one story with broad enough appeal for a mass audience to find it palatable, it’s now possible to create a piece of mass media without much of a storyline at all, but instead, the tools the audience needs to create millions of their own, that they in turn can change and narrowcast to their peers. The audience knows what they need from narrowcast entertainment better than the broadcaster does, and they know the target audience for that entertainment (their friends and families) better than the broadcaster ever will.

Video games, currently biggest selling form of entertainment, have realized the potential of this idea more than any other type of storytelling. The battle between Master Chief and the Covenant isn’t the whole story of the Halo franchise. Your YouTube video of yourself regulating ten noobs with nothing but the butt of your gun and a hand grenade, set to a techno music bed that sounds offensively bad to everyone other than you and your friends, is also a major part of the story. That’s the reason why Halo set the record for the most single day sales of any form of media. The game about to knock Halo off the top spot is GTA IV. It will do so for the same reason – GTA story lines are paper thin, the real value has always been the rich and detailed sandbox worlds of GTA and how they let you create your own stories within them.

Networks drive stories in physical spaces too, they drive our life stories. David Leonhardt recently made the point that ideas and the value of networks keep us living close together in cities when we don’t necessarily have to. You might visit a major city like LA or Tokyo or London as a tourist for the linear story, to see the sights and so on, but people move to cities for the opportunities and stories they themselves can create with the networks that exist there. The quality of the relationship you are able to have with the network in a physical place makes the difference between that place feeling like a nice place to visit, and that place feeling like it could be home. New York City and Liberty City are great places to be for the same reason.

gta iv new york

Great networks perpetually add value to all kinds of stories. From fan-fiction to remixes to making home videos at theme parks, people have been creating their own niche stories within mass entertainment properties for a long time. When mass entertainment properties encourage and add value to the networks that grow around them, they make it easier for the network to reciprocate.

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