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21,000 Flexible Public Fabrication Facilities across the USA

Why Is This Idea Important?: This project is essential to US national security, to provide a technologically literate populace who has learned about post-scarcity technology in a hands-on way. The greatest challenge our society faces right now is post-scarcity technology (like robots, AI, nanotech, biotech, etc.) in the hands of people still obsessed with fighting over scarcity (whether in big organizations or in small groups). This project would help educate our entire society about the potential of these technologies to produce abundance for all. So, why 21,000 flexible fabrication facilities across the USA at a cost of US$50 billion? To understand that, consider a few historical trends. We have seen an exponential growth in technological capacity in the world, and the beginnings of a move to "cradle-to-cradle" manufacturing, but as a society, individuals have not had much of a chance to be engaged with shaping those ideas for their own circumstances to truly realized their potential for global abundance. People need to feel with their hands the reality of that they have mostly only seen as sci-fi on their TVs. That is what it would take to put these technologies in easy reach of almost anyone in the USA. The digital fabrication revolution makes local shops potentially much more capable and economically interesting than ten or twenty years ago. The ShopBot CNC Router by ShopBot Tools is one example of such a tool, as is 3D Systems V-Flash 3D printer, or Singer's Computer Sewing Machine, but all sorts of other processes are going digital too. We're seeing the increasing intermingling at some points of the digital and physical worlds. And we're seeing ever cheaper computing costs drive down costs for physical things made by such systems. What actually prevented this happening ten or twenty years ago was: * offshoring to cheaper labor markets like China (goods) and India (services), although even decades earlier Japan was a cheap labor market, * the rise of cheap container shipping powered by cheap oil, * cheap illegal immigrant labor in the USA for agriculture and industry, and * the near doubling of the US labor market as women entered the workforce in big numbers, which depressed wages while driving up prices bid by two-income families. http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2004/11/two-income-trap Otherwise we might have seen an even bigger increase sooner in automation in US manufacturing. Instead, there was hardly any interest in automation in the 1980s in a big way. The military saw it of use in special situations perhaps and funded places like CMU. Big companies saw much bigger returns in putting in shop floor computer networks to put in extensive tracking of part flows, to get the most out of cheap human labor. And redesign for cheap assembly by cheap unskilled labor was important too. There is almost nothing in robotics we have now that we did not have in the 1980s as far as making something like a ShopBot system, except computers and sensors are a lot cheaper now. We could have had ShopBot-like systems everywhere in the 1980s if industrialists had been motivated by expensive labor prices or a demand for higher quality and customized products driven by rising wages. Instead, for the reasons listed above, US wages stopped rising in the 1970s and manufacturing workforce in the USA dropped to about one third of what it was in the 1950s, both by some increases in productivity and from lots of offshoring to places with cheaper labor. Only massive increases in debt papered over the possible social unrest. See Economist Richard Wolff's work: http://www.capitalismhitsthefan.com/ As global prices rise, and global transportation costs spike for oil and piracy, and at the time as countries realized the critical nature of manufacturing for global security, we may see a resurgent interest in cheap local manufacturing done through automation. As a parallel, many countries have been content for years with importing Microsoft products, but now they are realizing the security risks and economic risks of not using open systems like GNU/Linux and Open Office, whatever the immediate costs of switching to open systems might be. In yesterday's news, just one more datapoint: "Microsoft's Bulk Deal With New Zealand Collapses " http://news.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=09/05/26/0155209&from=rss ""The latest 3-year, pan-government deal that Microsoft has been establishing with the New Zealand government since 2000 has collapsed, opening the doors to the wider use of open source software in government." The US sees the inverse of that for importing manufactured goods and energy. The US has become critically dependent on risky supplies of essential items. That dependency also opens it to economic attacks (a devaluation of the dollar) as well as physical attacks (at shipping ports, through poisoned toys, etc.). It's an amazing tribute to the rest of humanity's forgiveness and compassion and forbearance (whatever religious or secular faiths different people have around the world) that so little has happened in terms of blowback to the USA. Judged by our own standards, like with Iraq, where the US maintains that a country having leadership we judged bad or might someday be a potential threat to US interests means that the country may be invaded and the civilians slaughtered and displaced in huge numbers (supposedly unintentionally but statistically certain), the USA is on precarious moral ground. But rather than translate that fear of attack into positive action for reasonable national security objectives and maybe even making amends internationally, the USA so far has focused mainly on more global bullying and a slide towards a domestic police state to monitor and perhaps suppress dissent asking for change and accountability. Examples are "watch what you say" advocated by the previous President's Press Secretary, the infiltration of local peace groups and other non-profits, http://www.democracynow.org/2003/10/9/peace_group_infiltrated_by_gove... and enshrining bullying into US military doctrine focusing on unilateral security instead of mutual security: "U.S. Military Seeks Space Dominance Strategy" http://www.space.com/news/space_control_021015.html In an age where anybody can build a cruise missile in their garage, "Build Your Own Cruise Missile " http://hardware.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=03/04/29/1857212 it seems like we need a better way forward than fragmentation and fighting over narrowly perceived self-interest. But there is at least one other path. Jimmy Carter outlined it in 1979 when he talked of two paths, but the USA as a nation chose the wrong one for the last thirty years: Jimmy Carter: "Energy and the National Goals - A Crisis of Confidence" http://www.americanrhetoric.com/mp3clips/politicalspeeches/jimmycarte... """ We are at a turning point in our history. There are two paths to choose. One is a path I’ve warned about tonight, the path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility. It is a certain route to failure. All the traditions of our past, all the lessons of our heritage, all the promises of our future point to another path -- the path of common purpose and the restoration of American values. That path leads to true freedom for our nation and ourselves. We can take the first steps down that path as we begin to solve our energy problem. Energy will be the immediate test of our ability to unite this nation, and it can also be the standard around which we rally. On the battlefield of energy we can win for our nation a new confidence, and we can seize control again of our common destiny. In little more than two decades we’ve gone from a position of energy independence to one in which almost half the oil we use comes from foreign countries, at prices that are going through the roof. Our excessive dependence on OPEC has already taken a tremendous toll on our economy and our people. This is the direct cause of the long lines which have made millions of you spend aggravating hours waiting for gasoline. It’s a cause of the increased inflation and unemployment that we now face. This intolerable dependence on foreign oil threatens our economic independence and the very security of our nation. """ The same thing Jimmy Carter said about energy independence could be said about manufacturing independence. And, as Amory Lovins and Hunter Lovins said about energy in 1982, now applies to manufacturing these days given the potential of local digital fabrication: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brittle_Power """ Brittle Power: Energy Strategy for National Security is a 1982 book by Amory B. Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins, prepared originally as a Pentagon study, and re-released in 2001 following the September 11 attacks. The book argues that domestic energy infrastructure is very vulnerable to disruption, by accident or malice, often even more so than imported oil. According to the authors, a resilient energy system is feasible, costs less, works better, is favoured in the market, but is rejected by U.S. policy.[1] In the preface to the 2001 edition, Lovins explains that these themes are still very current. [2] """ The same thing happened in organic agriculture in the 1980s. Organic methods were overall cheaper to our society, but conventional farming practices were subsidized in various ways (from land-grant universities focusing on developing innovations for big farms, to limited liability for pesticide health effects, to crop support payments for conventional growing strategies, to the subsidy of the interstate highway system and various subsidies for fuel for trucking lettuce from California to New York). Here is a wood working shop in the UK using a ShopBot to serve its local community: "Unto This Last" http://www.untothislast.co.uk/ Look at their slogan: "Furniture Cut To Size; Local craftsmanship at mass production prices" From their about page: http://www.untothislast.co.uk/about.html "Having no [finished] stock, we can already offer you more than 100 product lines from a very small location. Adding finish and size options, we have a growing catalogue of more than 2000 products to choose from. Our organisation simplifies logistics and cuts costs: we do without warehousing, transportation or packaging. This is we can propose prices competing with mass-production on a considerably reduced footprint. " They are being competitive even with all the subsidies around them for shipping and mass production. That shows the amazing potential of today's technology, and it will only get more competitive as it continues to improve. And also from that page: "Unto This Last is the title of a book written in 1860 by John Ruskin. He advocated a return to the local craftsman workshops, having a few doubts about the human cost of the Industrial Revolution. Thanks to today's technology, we make distributed manufacturing happen - with a competitive edge. If you continue to support our approach, we plan to grow by duplicating our workshop in other locations, for your convenience, and the pleasure of making things differently." Right now, there is no one 3D printing machine that does everything. There may not be one for ten or twenty years (maybe longer). But, right now, one can imagine something beyond a FabLab that is a quite serious flexible manufacturing center, doing mass customization of open designs. "Model shops" of big corporations and universities (like the one in IBM Research Yorktown Heights) can make a lot of stuff in a relatively small shop footprint. There is no reason why every community in the USA (or the world) should not have a flexible manufacturing center in it for short-run production use, general messing-around hobby use, and for formal and informal educational use. There are already successful businesses on that model doing things like local ceramics. It would be a prudent "national security" thing to do, to underwrite the installation of big FabLabs everywhere in a country. The FabLab costs about US$50K or so. But let's scale that FabLab cost up to a million dollars US for each lab by the time you build (or buy or rent) a building and put in more machine tools of a greater variety. Here is some information about the USA: http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=509183 "There are more than 3,000 counties in the U.S. ... there are 18,443 cities, towns, villages, and other such governing groups in the United States." So, let's say we put a big FabLab-inspired center in each county (US$10 million each to be really big) and one smaller one in every town, village, etc. (for US$1 million each). Maybe big cities will get several ones for each neighborhood. How much would that really cost? Well, at the county level that would be about US$10M * 3000 = US$30 billion. At the town level, that's about US$1M * 18000 = US$18 billion. Put that together, and you get US$48 billion for 3000 huge county FabLabs and 18000 big town FabLabs. (Note, costs might go down if we mass produced machine tools for this.) Sounds like a lot, right? Forty eight billion US dollars. Wow. But it it compared to other things? What is it worth it to ensure the continuity of our civilization in all sorts of disasters? What it is it worth to encourage an entire new generation of entrepreneurs for a resurgence of local manufacturing? What is it worth to transform a society and bring it hope again? Well, let's put that US$50 billion in perspective of various other things. From: http://www.brookings.edu/projects/archive/nucweapons/50.aspx "50. Estimated 1998 spending on all U.S. nuclear weapons and weapons-related programs: $35,100,000,000" So, just one year of defense spending on just the nuclear weapons aspect is about the same amount. From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interstate_Highway_System "Although construction on the Interstate Highway System continues, I-70 through Glenwood Canyon (completed in 1992) is often cited as the completion of the originally-planned system. The initial cost estimate for the system was $25 billion over 12 years; it ended up costing $114 billion (adjusted for inflation, $425 billion in 2006 dollars) and taking 35 years to complete." So, for one tenth the cost of the interstate highway system, we can have flexible manufacturing easily accessible everywhere in the USA. (And of course, reduce some wear-and-tear on the highway system. :-) The drug war costs about US$40 billion a year directly: http://www.drugpolicy.org/library/factsheets/economiccons/fact_econom... How many people would not be addicted to drugs if they had more interesting things to do with local manufacturing or starting a small business? The USA spends about US$50 billion a year on agricultural subsidies: http://blogs.usatoday.com/oped/2007/07/post-30.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agricultural_subsidy#United_States Though only about US$8 billion of that goes directly to farms each year. (These figures are a little hard to figure out because the agriculture industry is so complex, so that's just a ballpark estimate.) But, clearly, with agriculture only employing 2% of the workforce, that's a lot of subsidy. Why should distributed manufacturing not get that kind of subsidy? We've lost track of all the handouts and bailouts that are going to the big three auto companies at various times (there were earlier ones last year for conversion to eco-vehicles too). I'm guessing those are totaling US$30 billion by now? Here is one recent comment on just GM: http://www.autoficial.com/?p=563 "Right now on Washington, the White House is preparing to General Motors for bankruptcy proceedings, as soon as, next week according to The Washington Post. The procedure may give GM an extra $30 billion in federally secured loans to help put the devastated automakers priorities in order. Combined with the already $15 billion in bail out cash, this puts the total cost to the American tax payer close to $45 billion. That’s a big chunk of change in an already overly stressed economy." So, here we see the US government spending about the same amount of money it would take to put amazing decentralized manufacturing facilities across the USA within a few minutes drive for most, but instead the US government is spending the same amount to prop up just one manufacturer with a failing business model going into bankruptcy anyway. Of course the bailouts of the US banking system are already in the trillions of US dollars; the cost to put a real physical economic stimulus everywhere is a tiny fraction of that (like 1%, with maybe another 1% to pay for ten years of operating costs if they were not pay-as-you-go?). Kevin Kelly is writing about related things: "The New Socialism: Global Collectivist Society Is Coming Online" by Kevin Kelly http://www.wired.com/culture/culturereviews/magazine/17-06/nep_newsoc... "The type of communism with which Gates hoped to tar the creators of Linux was born in an era of enforced borders, centralized communications, and top-heavy industrial processes. Those constraints gave rise to a type of collective ownership that replaced the brilliant chaos of a free market with scientific five-year plans devised by an all-powerful politburo. This political operating system failed, to put it mildly. However, unlike those older strains of red-flag socialism, the new socialism runs over a borderless Internet, through a tightly integrated global economy. It is designed to heighten individual autonomy and thwart centralization. It is decentralization extreme. Instead of gathering on collective farms, we gather in collective worlds. Instead of state factories, we have desktop factories connected to virtual co-ops. Instead of sharing drill bits, picks, and shovels, we share apps, scripts, and APIs. Instead of faceless politburos, we have faceless meritocracies, where the only thing that matters is getting things done. Instead of national production, we have peer production. Instead of government rations and subsidies, we have a bounty of free goods." Well, until we get "China on our desktop" as RepRap promises, we can at least have "China in our county or village" with one of these facilities. Perhaps you might design something at home on a desktop computer, test it at a national supercomputing facility, then send the design to the local facility to get fabricated and pay for materials, parts, and labor. Or, you might bring your own materials, parts, and labor, and pay for machine tool time and cutting bit wear etc.. Obviously, there are existing companies that do some of that flexible manufacturing from local designs, like emachineshop.com: http://www.emachineshop.com/ or ToyBuilders.com: http://www.toybuilders.com/ But they are not the same as having the facility local to create a sense of real face-to-face community around it. These facilities could have cafes, and libraries with rooms of computers with design tools, and teach courses, and have helpful people hanging around, and so on. They could be "People's Sheds" instead of just "Men's Sheds". :-) They could become the "leet" places for kids to hang out in the afternoons and evenings. :-) Especially if some were based at or near schools. There could be DIYBio labs there too. Safer ones than doing stuff at home. Yes, with more official supervision, too. That Meshwork-Hierarchy balance idea by Manuel de Landa again. http://www.t0.or.at/delanda/meshwork.htm Anyway, there would be all kinds of economic issues with the government creating such facilities (is it fair to existing manufacturing businesses?), but the point is, from a government financing point of view, it is easily doable. It is comparatively trivial. And if we had these tens of thousands of facilities, then there would be a tremendous value in a free and open shared library of designs for making stuff in them. And we would see that, driven by Kevin Kelly's "digital socialism". :-) And of course, others have had similar ideas before. :-) "ORE Incubators for Iran" http://www.presstv.com/detail.aspx?id=78926§ionid=3510302 "ORE Incubators are a simple mechanism, but where they unleash the creative thinking of humankind. They are huge research centers where inventors, leading-edge indigenous/endogenous scientist/engineers/technologists create and make new things with eminent world leading scientist's et al. They are manned and managed by the best scientists that a nation can offer, but not in a totally scholastic term, but in creative thinking and inventive terms - the knowledge-based hands-on mentality. Overall, therefore to give you a perspective of the size and purpose of a typical ORE Incubator, they are circular in construction which allows major inventions and technologies to be developed logistically, wheeled in and out and where the overall floor area is approximately 11,000m2. """ So, just like the USA had a (fictitious) "missile gap" with the USSR during the Cold War, well now maybe the USA has or will have a (fictitious?) "shop gap" with Iran. :-) Now, we know there may well be too many conflicting interests in the USA to do this. It's easy to raise US$35 billion a year if you are going to hand much of it to a few big companies like GE's (past) nuclear weapons division, because those few big companies are easily approachable and can (legally) influence legislation. It's a lot harder to think about putting in anything that benefits the average person in the USA, especially given that aspects of it would be unfair to existing businesses (a legitimate issue of equity, to be harming the very innovators taking risks in these directions). It's also easy in the USA to pay for negative external costs of "free market" businesses: "Governments' Drug-Abuse Costs Hit $468 Billion, Study Says" http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/28/us/28addiction.html?ref=us "Government spending related to smoking and the abuse of alcohol and illegal drugs reached $468 billion in 2005, accounting for more than one-tenth of combined federal, state and local expenditures for all purposes, according to a new study. Most abuse-related spending went toward direct health care costs for lung disease, cirrhosis and overdoses, for example, or for law enforcement expenses including incarceration, according to the report released Thursday by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, a private group at Columbia University. Just over 2 percent of the total went to prevention, treatment and addiction research. The study is the first to calculate abuse-related spending by all three levels of government. " But it is hard to get any funds for "cradle-to-cradle" manufacturing or systematic "Comprehensive Anticipatory Design Science" that might reduce external costs. And of course, it is easy to find the support to prop up an antiquated "just in case" compulsory schooling model that everyone knows is on its last legs, to the tune of US$53.6 billion. And, it's even OK to do that in ways where "domestic" stimulus money just goes abroad, given many of the products the US buys are made abroad, as are more and more of the services: http://www.syracuse.com/opinion/index.ssf?/base/opinion-5/12435009401... "Just think: When a state uses federal money to upgrade computer systems, for example, it hires contractors, employs workers and buys materials. The state not only receives a new computer system, but reaps the downstream benefit of those contractors, workers and material providers spending money in the local economy and growing their business. As President Obama said, "I think the ripple effects of this (stimulus) package won't be entirely documentable, but I think it will be significant." But the stimulus effect is virtually lost on state projects shipped overseas. If a state upgrades its computer systems with workers in India, the ripple effect will be felt not on Main Street, but rather in on some avenue in India. Although there is something to be said for trade, the immediate concern is domestic stimulus. The allure of inexpensive offshore contracting must yield, at least in the short-run, to reviving our struggling economy by investing in domestic workers and industries." But, it is hard to get money to make public schools more like public libraries, open to everyone without compulsion, where if you don't like a teacher or librarian, you just avoid them. So, the USA continues to drive its economy off a cliff, and prop up the old guard, at the cost of trillions of dollars, even as the old guard's business model seems like senility in an age of what Kevin Kelly called "digital socialism". Still, another country with a weaker less established manufacturing sector, and one where "socialism" is not such a dirty word, like Venezuela or Cuba (or maybe even South Africa, Greece, or France) could also do something like this. And then, that country (or countries) might leap ahead in manufacturing on both a local and a global basis, because a playful populace is an empowered populace. And the USA *used* to be like that in the 1950s too: "Make Magazine's Dale Dougherty explains what a "maker" is and why its so important to America" http://makerfaire.com/#part3 Or, someone politically savvy might get the US machine tool industry to lobby for it somehow. What is outlined here for the USA does exist to a degree already. Many universities, technical schools, high schools, and community colleges have shops (even as shop courses have fallen by the wayside in many places). The US government (or state and local) has already funded the basics for such an infrastructure, most of it already in nice well maintained buildings connected by high speed internet. If university centers expanded their manufacturing missions, and if public high schools and their shops became more like public libraries in some ways, where the public could go when they wanted to use the facilities and "learn on demand" or do "research and development", then there might be something of a political base in the USA to start from. Anyway, we'll see the transformation anyway with flexible 3D printers on the desktop (probably by 2030 at the latest). But we could have it starting by 2010 (next year) with a big push by the government. Here is the (scary) political authorization in our society that often seems to only do big things for militaristic scarcity-obsessed and conflict-obsessed reasons: http://www.answers.com/topic/defense-production-act-of-1950 "A law passed on September 8, 1950, during the Korean War, to expand production and secure economic stability in the United States. It included provisions on inflation and stabilization, rent control, agricultural prices, defense mobilization, and taxes and appropriations for defense use. It established the Joint Committee on Defense Production to supervise the act's implementation." From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defense_Production_Act """ The Defense Production Act (Pub.L. 81-774) is a United States law enacted on September 8, 1950, in response to the start of the Korean War. It was part of a broad civil defense and war mobilization effort in the context of the Cold War. Its implementing regulations, the Defense Priorities and Allocation System (DPAS), are located at 15 CFR §§700 to 700.93. The Act has been periodically reauthorized and amended, and remains in force as of 2007. The Act contains three major sections. The first authorizes the President to require businesses to sign contracts or fulfill orders deemed necessary for national defense. The second authorizes the President to establish mechanisms (such as regulations, orders or agencies) to allocate materials, services and facilities to promote national defense. The third section authorizes the President to control the civilian economy so that scarce and/or critical materials necessary to the national defense effort are available for defense needs. The Act also authorizes the President to requisition property, force industry to expand production and the supply of basic resources, impose wage and price controls, settle labor disputes, control consumer and real estate credit, establish contractual priorities, and allocate raw materials to aid the national defense. """ The ironic thing about WWII was that the German people had within themselves the seeds for such greatness -- essentially the best universities, the best poets, the best manufacturing, the best recycling, the best innovators, even the best Jewish intellectuals -- but because of a scarcity ideology (and a shutting down of playfulness) they threw it all away and plunged the world into many years of darkness. The same innovative spirit that Germany showed in some parts of waging a world war could have made Germany itself a paradise had it been applied locally. Why did they not do that? Maybe they became too scared of scarcity and forgot how to play with ideas and technologies locally to produce abundance for everyone? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homo_Ludens We, as a society, need decentralized manufacturing facilities (like FabLabs) where everyone in our society can "play" with these new technologies, to develop new ideas, new assumptions, new businesses, new life-affirming connections with a global community, and so on. At this point, decentralized manufacturing and a reconsideration of our basic economic models given "divide by zero" errors in our basic economic equations from ever cheaper computing is a critical national security priority for the USA. This is still all too true: http://www.kurtz-fernhout.com/oscomak/need.htm "The Joint Committee on Defense Production notes that American industry is tailor made for easy disruption. Its qualities include large unit scale, concentration of key facilities, reliance on advanced materials inputs and on specialized electronics and automation, highly energy- and capital- intensive plants, and small inventories. The Committee found that correcting these defects, even incrementally and over many decades, could be very costly. But the cost of not doing so could be even higher -- a rapid regression of tens, or even hundreds of years in the American economy, should it be gravely disrupted."

The USA needs more large neighborhood shops with a lot of flexible machine tools. The US government should fund the construction of 21,000 flexible fabrication facilities across the USA at a cost of US$50 billion, places where any American can go to learn about and use CNC equipment like mills and lathes and a variety of other advanced tools and processes including biotech ones. That is one for every town and county in the USA. These shops might be seen as public extensions of local schools, essentially turning the shops of public schools into more like a public library of tools. A few variations have been developed in that direction (Men's Shed, FabLab, TechShop, or in books like David Morris' "Neighborhood Power: The New Localism").




Here is a related article about "The Case for Working With Your Hands":


And a related idea:


Submitted by Paul Fernhout 4 years ago

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Comments (3)

  1. This is a very interesting idea. But to support our high standard of living, we have to produce more and better "knowledge workers," in the words of Crawford in the NYTimes article.

    However, I also see your point: there are some jobs (e.g. electricians, car mechanics, etc.) that (fortunately) can't be outsourced, and we would be smart to try to fill those jobs first in this recession. I don't think 21,000 facilities is a reasonable number, but maybe a handful in large cities? I'm also not sure classes on biotechnology and other "advanced tools" should be available to everyone; it makes more sense to keep these in the colleges and institutions, where students are prepared and already understand the basics.

    4 years ago
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  2. Paul Fernhout Idea Submitter

    Without a basic hand-on understanding of post-scarcity technology like robotics and CNC, it is almost impossible for anyone to later be a "knowledge worker" in the area of technology. Without a basic understanding of modern technology, it is also difficult for the average US citizen to productively discuss and vote on many of these issues in a democracy. Right now, for example, US designers who were children in the 1950s are aging and there are fewer US citizens who have a deep understanding of making things around to fill their shoes (there are some, like through Lego or US FIRST). Related:

    "Make Magazine's Dale Dougherty explains what a "maker" is and why its so important to America"


    There is a whole generation of young people in China who are learning how things are made by direct experience in factories (though that is a rough and painful way to learn), and they will be most of the designers of tomorrow (unless other countries also make available hands-on learning).

    The reason there needs to be 21,000 centers is to place a center near everyone in the USA, for informal education. For comparison, there are an estimated 123,129 libraries of all kinds in the United States today according to the ALA. Would we be better off as a country with only a handful of libraries in the cities? While cities could benefit from more centers, they also have the resources and density to have more private ones. It is in the rural areas in the US where many young people still have the most connection to making things and which might benefit most from such places at first. It is important that tools be available to people for hobby or commercial use because otherwise, what good is knowledge if you can't apply it?

    That said, universities could have an important role to play in supporting more advanced centers (like some do now, with business incubators) -- though this idea encourages providing access to technology in a way that is much more open ended and playful rather than having people only gain access to technology after they have raised funding with a business plan. These sorts of centers can provide supervision and guidance for people to learn how to use these technologies more safely. How are entrepreneurs supposed to know what is possible without playing with technologies first, like was possible by using personal computers, leading to many computer companies? The choice now is not people splicing genes in universities or not; the choice is people splicing genes in accessible and safety-minded local labs or doing it in their kitchens. http://diybio.org/

    Also, most formal education provides abstractions, whereas most people learn by experience with specifics; the abstractions are useful, but usually they really make sense only after people understand the basics from hands-on direct experience and so have real experience to relate the abstractions to and so see their value. So, this plan is also trying to address a more general flaw in a US educational system that stresses verbal literacy and abstraction and not mechanical literacy and hands-on play.

    4 years ago
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    0 Disagreed
  3. The federal government has screwed up enough things already!

    4 years ago
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    0 Disagreed