neil gershenfeld

neil gershenfeld bw

oh my

among many things, director of cba – center for bits and atoms

cusp of personal fabrication means a new literacy in the developed world, but for the rest of the world, this might mean the tech revolution for them, not bringing tech to them, it means locally appropriate technological development

personal fabrication is the next development


via 2006:

Unleash your creativity in a Fab Lab

computer science is perhaps the worst thing that ever happened to computers and to science.

nature shows us so much more..

how you compute to fabricate

digitizing fabrication

you can’t segregate digital fabrication by a discipline

class – how to make almost anything – first day – so many there because they had been waiting all their life for this class – most were there to make stuff

8 min – scream release, wrestle to prove you are alive,..


9 min – students were showing killer app of personal fabrication is products for a market of one person, you don’t need this for what you can get in walmart, you need this for what makes you unique… you don’t need personal fabrication in the home to buy what you can buy because you can buy it, you need it for what makes you unique, just like personalization..

creating your own c- app:

so put together fablabs… this wasn’t scheduled… but they exploded around the world…

10:30 – for all the attention to the digital divide… a kid needs to modify the world, not just get info about it from the screen

not IT for the masses, IT development for the masses. this is too crazy to have thought it up.. it just would show up and refuse to leave the lab

11:20 – serious hands on technical ed outside of schools

11:50 – experts can’t do what this girl (who had to stay up all night) in ghana did

13 min – mit – scaling the work of 8 yr old children.. because they had better designs, real inventions are happening in these tribes

i still kept saying – this isn’t the real thing, wait like 20 yrs and then we’ll be done, and i finally got what’s going on …. pdp’s, fablabs are the cost/complexity of a pdp, not a projection for future, .. we are now in the digital era of fabrication

14 min – only problem… it breaks agencies organizational boundaries , in fact it’s illegal for agenicies to equip ordinary to create rather than consume technology

that problem is so severe – the ultimate invention coming from this community (fablab-ers) it’s the social engineering.. the lab in the far north of norway, outgrew the barn it was in, so they built this village, – 14:45 – village for invention, a village for the outliers in society, and those have been growing up all over the world

machines that make machines need businesses that create businesses

15 – there’s been a sea change in aid, from top down mega projects to bottom up grassroots, but we still look at computing as top down (ie: if this room full of ted were just clever enough we could save the world)

15:45 – the message coming from the fablabs, the other 5 billion people on the planet aren’t just technical syncs, they’re sources, they’re real opportunities to harness the inventive power of the world, to invent/design local problems….today…  breaks every organization boundary we can think of – the hardest thing at this point is the social/organizational engineering 

16:30 – moores law – looming bug – the transition from 2-d to 3-d – from programming bits to programming atoms – ultimate bug becomes ultimate feature – edge of digital revolution in fabrication – where output of computation programs the physical world

a people experiment?

16:45 – together these two projects answer questions i hadn’t asked carefully, the class at mit shows:

1. the killer app for personal fabrication in the developed world is tech for a market of 1 – personal expression in technology that touches a passion unlike i’ve seen in tech in a very long time

2.  killer app for rest of planet is the instrumentation/fabrication divide – people locally developing solutions to local problems


via 2013:

neil on edge

We’ve already had a digital revolution; we don’t need to keep having it. The next big thing in computers will be literally outside the box, as we bring the programmability of the digital world to the rest of the world. With the benefit of hindsight, there’s a tremendous historical parallel between the transition from mainframes to PCs and now from machine tools to personal fabrication. By personal fabrication I mean not just making mechanical structures, but fully functioning systems including sensing, logic, actuation, and displays.

the talk linked above is a short version of his 2006 ted.

3 min – he does say here – that what kids were doing (at mit – where basic needs are met), was reinventing literacy. personal fabrication, in a place at mit,  is not in creating something you need, but it’s expression.

6:40 each example (beyond reach of normal tech – labs in n norway and rural india)is mission critical/life and death – there isn’t a start up in silicon that can solve the problem, and even if there was it wouldn’t work, the problems are locally solved & economic activity is local

7 min – i have strange days in washington, between world bank, to pentagon, to nsf, and they all want to talk about the same thing, because this breaks what they do..

… world bank wanting to close digital divide – rather than IT for the masses, the real story is IT development for the masses, rather than digital divide .. it’s the fabrication/instrumentation divide, which means of input/output in solving local/appropriate problems

… nsf trying to get people interested in science – rather – enable them to do science

9 min… on pentagon trying to improve defense:

….possibly one of the best/most significant impacts of tech is not a better weapon to win a war but tech that gives people something else to do.  .. there will always be bad people that want to use best available means to shoot at each other but the roll of tech in giving everybody else something else to do – as a cost benefit trade off – may be one of the best military investments – and the generals got that.. but not clear what office in the pentagon is the office of preventive technology

freeing us – all – up to be usefully/happily preoccupied

Gershenfeld something else law

so suddenly what we’re finding is this cusp of personal fabrication means a new literacy in the developed world, but for the rest of the world, this might mean the tech revolution for them, not bringing tech to them, it means locally appropriate technological development

10 min – personal computing is done – personal fabrication really is the next story coming – the mainframe argument: that historical parallel and the enabling tech in the lab and the desperate/passionate response we keep finding – really fill in the story about how personal fabrication is the thing that’s coming (this said in 2003)


personal fabrication


2012 paper – how to make almost anything.. the digital fabrication revolution:

The revolution is not additive versus subtractive manufacturing; it is the ability to turn data into things and things into data.


Personal fabrication has been around for years as a science-fiction staple. When the crew of the tv series Star Trek: The Next Generation was confronted by a particularly challenging plot development, they could use the onboard replicator to make whatever they needed. Scientists at a number of labs (including mine) are now working on the
real thing, developing processes that can place individual atoms and molecules into whatever structure they want. Unlike 3-d printers today, these will be able to build complete functional systems at once, with no need for parts to be assembled. The aim is to not only produce the parts for a drone, for example, but build a complete
vehicle that can fly right out of the printer. [..] ..although today’s digital manufacturing machines are still in their infancy, they can already be used to make (almost) anything, anywhere. That changes everything.


The students were answering a question that I had not asked: What is digital fabrication good for? As it turns out, the “killer app” in digital fabrication, as in computing, is personalization, producing products for a market of one person.


We assembled a kit of about $50,000 worth of equipment… fab lab[..]

For all the dfferences between the mit campus and the South End, the
responses at both places were equally enthusiastic. [..] .. a second fab lab in the town of SekondiTakoradi, on Ghana’s coast. Since then, fab labs have been installed everywhere from South Africa to Norway, from downtown Detroit to rural India. In the past few years, the total number has doubled about every 18 months, with over 100 in operation today and that many more being planned. These labs form part of a larger “maker
movement” of high-tech do-it-yourselfers, who are democratizing access to the modern means to make things.


Providing Internet access has been a goal of many fab labs. From the Boston lab, a project was started to make antennas, radios, and terminals for wireless networks. The design was refined at a fab lab in Norway, was tested at one in South Africa, was deployed from one in Afghanistan, and is now running on a self-sustaining commercial basis in Kenya. None of these sites had the critical mass of knowledge to design and produce the networks on its own. But by sharing design files and producing the components locally, they could all do so together.

did Kosta work with Neil?


Personal fabrication tools have been considered toys, because the incremental cost of mass production will always be lower than for one-oª goods. A similar charge was leveled against personal computers. Ken Olsen, founder and ceo of the minicomputermaker Digital Equipment Corporation, famously said in 1977 that “there is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.” His company is now defunct.


..the goal of personal fabrication is not to make what you can buy in stores but to make what you cannot buy.


This last observation inspired the Fab City project, which is led by Barcelona’s chief architect, Vicente Guallart. Barcelona, like the rest of Spain, has a youth unemployment rate of over 50 percent. An entire generation there has few prospects for getting jobs and leaving home. Rather than purchasing products produced far away, the city, with Guallart, is deploying fab labs in every district as part of the civic infrastructure. The goal is for the city to be globally connected for knowledge but self-suffcient for what it consumes.

short – make jobs irrelevant..


..the lego pieces themselves define their spacing, allowing a structure to grow to any size.


.. ribosome, the protein that makes proteins. Humans are full of molecular machinery,
from the motors that move our muscles to the sensors in our eyes. The ribosome builds all that machinery out of a microscopic version of lego pieces, amino acids, of which there are 22 different kinds.


Trash is a concept that applies only to materials that don’t contain enough information to be reusable. All the matter on the forest floor is recycled again and again. Likewise, a product assembled from digital materials need not be thrown out when it becomes obsolete. It can simply be disassembled and the parts reconstructed into
something new.


The biggest challenge to building new fab labs around the world has not been generating interest, or teaching people how to use them, or even cost; it has been the logistics. Bureaucracy, incompetent or corrupt border controls, and the inability of supply chains to meet demand have hampered our efforts to ship the machines around the world. When we are ready to ship assemblers, it will be much easier to mail digital material components in bulk and then e-mail the design codes to a fab lab so that one assembler can make another.


Machines that make machines cannot be regulated in the same way that machines made by a few manufacturers can be.
Even if 3-d printers could be controlled, hurting people is already a well-met market demand. Cheap weapons can be found anywhere in the world.

Cba’s experience running fab labs in conflict zones has been that they are used as an alternative to fighting.

And although established elites do not see the technology as a threat, its presence can challenge their authority. For example, the fab lab in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, has provided wireless Internet access to a community that can now, for the first time, learn about the rest of the world and extend its own network.


A fab lab in Detroit, for example, which is run by the entrepreneur Blair Evans, offers programs for at-risk youth as a social service. It empowers them to design and build things based on their own ideas.

rabbit holing into 2014:

Blair Evans is an alumnus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an entrepreneur. For the past 15 years, he’s been the superintendent of a group of charter schools for troubled kids in Detroit, and in 2010 he opened the city’s first Fab Lab inside one of his schools.

The initial Fab Lab in Detroit cost from $200,000 to $250,000 to assemble, and Evans put his own money behind the project. A second one has opened in another of his schools, and Evans says both have paid for themselves with social-service contracts for youth development.

Soon there will be a third Fab Lab in Detroit’s 20-acre EcoDistrict that will turn out energy-efficient wood houses. And the EcoDistrict will make use of permaculture and an aquaponic system built in the Fab Lab.

rabbit holing – into 2011:

Self-replication and open source specifications puts set-up costs at little more than the cost of materials.

… innovation in the technologies of small-scale production and of daily living reduce the worker’s need for a continuing income stream. [..] ..such increased efficiencies, by minimizing the ongoing income stream required for comfortable subsistence, have the same liberating effect on ordinary people that access to land on the common did for their ancestors three hundred years ago. – Kevin A. Carson, The Homebrew Industrial Revolution, pp. 1-2

Blair Evans of Incite Focus, whom I met at IPC10 in Jordan, introduced me to the sloganistic phrase “move bit not atoms”. This phrase captures another energy (and cost) saving. Where we’re talking about atoms, distance is energy. Bits, however, are trivial to move in comparison.

Permafacture in Practice

Factor-e-Farm is one place in which some of these implications are being worked out. This farm is the site of Open Source Ecology‘s project called the Global Village Construction Set. The project aims to produce 50 machines for village scale development. Several prototype machines, all with open source specifications, have been built already, including a compressed earth brick press and tractor. Like the fab lab, OSE aims for their machines to be able to be produced from a minimal set of self-replicating machines. Listening to Frank Aragona’s interview with Marcin Jakubowski in 2008 was what first interested me in the possibility of low energy, high tech fabrication within regenerative design. I liked the notion of permafacture, which Marcin spoke of and which Vinay Gupta is supposed to have coined.

This way of holding culture in common is also what allows for the fabrication of useful machines and tools at very low cost. Kropotkin writes:

In proportion as technical knowledge becomes everybody’s virtual domain, in proportion as it becomes international, and can be concealed no longer, each nation acquires the possibility of applying the whole variety of her energies to the whole variety of industrial and agricultural pursuits. Knowledge ignores artificial political boundaries. –Peter Kropotkin, Fields, Factories and Workshops, p. 25

He goes on (in 1899!):

Those who dream of monopolising technical genius are 50 years behind the times. The world — the wide, wide world — is now the true domain of knowledge. — Peter Kropotkin, Fields, Factories and Workshops, p. 48

As we develop vital solutions we must be willing to share what we are able of the associated vital information. This is not charity, it is a practice ultimately beneficial to our own capacity to make use of other people’s improvements on our work and the obligation implicit in our making use of the knowledge of all who have come before us.

Colin Ward first re-issued an edited edition of Kropotkin’s Fields, Factories and Workshops in 1979 under the title Fields, Factories and Workshops Tomorrow because Ward saw that this vision was becoming ever more realisable even if Kropotkin’s thesis of its inevitability was wrong. More than ever we know that decentralised, human, ecologically regenerative work and life is not inevitable. That there are powerful forces working against just these things for the profit of a few also becomes ever clearer.

Kropotkin recognised this even if he could not see that he wrote during the beginning stages of the concentration of capital in trans-national corporations. He wrote:

Of course, as long as society remains organised so as to permit the owners of the land and capital to appropriate for themselves, under the protection of the state and historical rights, the yearly surplus of human production, no such change [the integration of industrial and agricultural, manual and brain work] can be thoroughly accomplished. — Peter Kropotkin, Fields, Factories and Workshops Tomorrow, p. 26

Today, the fabricator’s and the biohacker’s lab in garage and garden and on the farm will enable the always-inventive gardener and farmer to gain access to the means of invention which have hitherto been out of reach and so also limited the capacity for a truly harmonious relationship with the land and for cooperative and communal production.

Below are some starting points so you can get collaborating:

Graeber meets Thiel ness

dang. 2011. 1899.


top down – In 2005, South Africa launched a national network of fab labs to encourage innovation through its National Advanced Manufacturing Technology Strategy. In the United States, Representative Bill Foster (D-Ill.) proposed legislation, the National Fab Lab Network Act of 2010, to create a national lab linking local fab labs. The existing national laboratory system houses billion-dollar facilities but struggles to directly impact the communities around them. Foster’s bill proposes a system that would instead bring the labs to the communities.

bottom up – ..such as the one in Detroit, began as informal organizations to address unmet local needs. These have joined regional programs. These regional programs, such as the United States Fab Lab Network and, in Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, take on tasks that are too big for an individual lab, such as supporting the launch of new ones. The regional programs, in turn, are linking together through the international Fab Foundation, which will provide support for global challenges, such as sourcing specialized materials around the world.

Children working in remote fab labs have progressed so far beyond any local educational opportunities that they would have to travel far away to an advanced
institution to continue their studies. To prevent such brain drains, the Fab Academy has linked local labs together into a global campus.

David Sengeh?

The combination of digital communications and digital fabrication eªectively allows the campus to come to the students, who can share projects that are locally produced on demand.


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that in 2020, the United States will have about 9.2 million jobs in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. According to data compiled by the National Science Board, the advisory group of the National Science Foundation, college degrees in these fields have not kept pace with college enrollment.

or not .. right?

The Fab Academy seeks to balance the decentralized enthusiasm of the do-it-yourself maker movement and the mentorship that comes from doing it together.


..the real strength of a fab lab is not technical; it is social. The innovative people that drive a knowledge economy share a common trait: by definition, they are not good at following rules. To be able to invent, people need to question assumptions. 

so let’s not follow all these research/political/historical rules/assumptions.. and model another way.. no?

They need to study and work in environments where it is safe to do that. Advanced educational and research institutions have room for only a few thousand of those people each. By bringing welcoming environments to innovators wherever they are, this digital revolution will make it possible to harness a larger fraction of the planet’s brainpower.

model another way.. trust everyone. ie: focus on a problem deep enough, via a mechanism simple enough, in a system open enough.. to resonate with everyone right now right where they are.

The collective challenge is to answer the central question it poses: How will we live, learn, work, and play when anyone can make anything, anywhere?

to min and max david graeber


via 2014:

fabricate 2014


Neil on TED page:

neil on ted page

MIT’s Neil Gershenfeld is redefining the boundaries between the digital and analog worlds. The digital revolution is over, Gershenfeld says. We won. What comes next? His Center for Bits and Atoms has developed quite a few answers, including Internet 0, a tiny web server that fits into lightbulbs and doorknobs, networking the physical world in previously unimaginable ways.

But Gershenfeld is best known as a pioneer in personal fabrication — small-scale manufacturing enabled by digital technologies, which gives people the tools to build literally anything they can imagine. His famous Fab Lab is immensely popular among students at MIT, who crowd Gershenfeld’s classes. But the concept is potentially life-altering in the developing world, where a Fab Lab with just $20,000 worth of laser cutters, milling machines and soldering irons can transform a community, helping people harness their creativity to build tools, replacement partsand essential products unavailable in the local market.


jan 2015 – talking (video) digital reality on edge:

there are very few exponentials in engineering

you can communicate reliably even when the medium isn’t reliable.. that’s digital

the meaning of digital is this threshold property.. this exponential scaling

the heart of it isn’t 1s and 0s but threshold property – exponential scaling, exponential reduction in error

we have digital communication and digital computation… most recently involved in …. digital fabrication – the first of the sine benders..

1952 – 1st fabrication –

now – lots of attention about maker movement – but misses something…

from 1952 – 80s 3d printing – we might use 3d printers.. 20% of time..other 80% other machines are faster.. it’s not a revolution.. decades old.. and once you have fabrication tools… like microwave oven to stove…

what it all misses is that it’s analog.. design is digital but process is smooshing material.. go back further – 4 billion years – to ribosome…  think about child playing with lego bricks (amino acids) … geometry comes from the parts.. 3d printer today.. you can only make size of volume of machine..

shannon part – lego tower more accurate than child’s motor control. in ribosome… that’s the exponential scaling for error… in joining parts you can collect and correct errors… exactly difference between analog phone and internet..

3d print.. no real notion of reusing components..

fabrication – codes in parts

12 min – 3d initiative at white house – it’s like shuffling deck chairs..

decentralization of fabrication.. doing things not considered remotely possible before.

smallest scale – create of life from scratch – designing genomes..

next up .. cable top chip fab…  instead of billion dollar fab..

next up .. highest performance ultra light material for things like airplanes.. ie: printers of jumbo jets

next up – robots like robotic ribosomes to make landscape…  homeland security, katrina, sandy…

next up – nasa – doing this in space.. bootstrap a civilization..

digitizing fabrication – so that’s the revolution…  it aligns with communication and computation..

the – how to make almost anything…  every year 100s of students try to take this class…. designed for 10 people.

25 min – fab labs like library for machines that make machines..

we’re 10 yrs into the doubling of fab labs… 20 yrs from now .. all of that will be something that will fit in your pocket… what you can make today.. won’t be what we’ll have in the future.. but we don’t have to wait 20 yrs to make anything we want

26 min – the renaisance is when art diverged from artisans.. we’ve been living with this notion that eliberal arts is the means of making art for commercial gain.. we can finally fix that boundary between art and artisans

research tools like mainframe… labs are like mini computer… you don’t go to fab lab to get machine.. but go to fab lab to make the machine… transition to self-making machines..

the biggest surprise for me – i though the research was hard.. lots of work to come but we know what to do.. what’s surprises are the consequences of this.. heads of states, nco’s, .. amazing range.. because if anybody can make anything anywhere it kind of challenges everything..

i love the maker movement .. but a loss of mentoring…  so we started a project – the fab academy… (because we kept failing to work with schools)

mit is based on scarcity.. tools, library, people, geography all scarce.. so few 1000 people at a time.. to planet – we’re off

i don’t like moocs..  it’s like time sharing..

fab lab – students have peers with mentors – locally and globally…

33 min – accrediting the fab academy – from educause.. said they couldn’t globally – but they said pretend.. do some skills based self-accredit – portfolio… we never get the question who accredited.. because the content speaks for itself.

c app ness – document everything

communication – talk all over, computation – store in cloud, the change… fabrication.. bring uni to student rather than student to uni

this is how you change mit – change mit the world will catch up to it

next year starting a new class with george church –

36 min – you can make all kinds of stuff.. but the benefit.. is having made it..

mass production (of software) won’t go away – but no longer interesting..

google.. sells benefit of having searched, facebook…sells benefit of having friended..

digital fab… benefit – invent a widget and sell it

39 min – more interesting thing… what is work… leave home to do something you’d rather not do… to get money to buy something.. what if you could skip that and just make the thing..

barcelona – consider ikea the enemy… 50% youth unemployment in barcelona – rather than product in trash out.. they want to do data in data out.. instead of working to get money to buy products.. make them locally… you don’t need money to get the thing..

cities now also provide (like electricity, water, etc), they provide the means to make stuff…

huge. city as school/uni.. ness – a people experiment

43 min – benefits – 1. economic 2. demo’s entirely new economic activity (we had maker faire outside of white house & wef)

barcelona 40 yr countdown to self-sufficiency

47 min – my ability to do everything i just described rests on a global supply chain... esp during transitional change of manufacturing locally..

47 – this leads to the social engineering, mit is for non-social, the vacuum we filled was technical… the spaces become magnets… vehicles for right-inventive people….

my allegiance is to the brain power of the planet…

i’m guessing 1 in 100 –  these bright inventive people…

what if it’s everyone.. if they are getting to pick what they do…

52 min – collaborative network – when communication, computation, and fabrication combined…. this is the next silicon valley (the new revolution) … a network not a place

55 min –

..a lot of tech industry is recreating a failed history of the wrong way to do research,

it’s the 7 billion figuring things out that works.. no? doesn’t work unless all of us are playing the game.. need a game that resonates with 7 billion people today. and everyday.

..which is to believe there’s a privileged set of people that know more than anybody else and to create a barrier that inhibits communication from the inside to the outside rather than recognizing the attributes: you need evolutionary pressure, you need traffic, you need to be forced to deal with people you don’t think you need to encounter, and you need to recognize that to be disruptive it helps to know what people know. you do your homework, you know what people know, then you can turn around and blow it up, but against a background of having done your homework.

the hardest part isn’t the research.. it’s figuring out a new social order…

we’re finding we have to build a completely new kind of social order and that social entrepreneurship—figuring out how you live, learn, work, play—is hard and there’s a very small set of people who can do that kind of organizational creation.

model another way.

perhaps what we’ve been working on the last five years is that new social order… that provides evolutionary pressure, traffic, eclectic/random encounters, with the new data/energy being: what people know (via self-talk) so that we all have access to what people really know – who they really are.



wikipedia small

Neil on mit site:

niel on mit site

find in bio:

Prof. Neil Gershenfeld is the Director of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms.

He is the originator of the growing global network of field fab labs that provide widespread access to prototype tools for personal fabrication, and directs the Fab Academy, the associated program for distributed research and education in the principles and practices of digital fabrication.


Daniel Suarez

Regina Dugan

Ayah Bdeir


maker movement


wear able ness


to 2016 edge question

Physicist, Director, MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms;…
The unseen scientific story is to break the historical relationship between work and wealth by removing the boundary between the digital and physical worlds.
.. emerging research is replacing processes that continuously deposit or remove materials with ones that code the reversible construction of discrete building blocks. This is being done across disciplines and length scales, from atomically-precise manufacturing, to whole-genome synthesis of living cells, to the three-dimensional integration of functional electronics, to the robotic assembly of modular aircraft and spacecraft. Taken together, these add up to programming reality—turning data into things and things into data.
reversible..? England ness..? for living things…
Returning to the news stories from 2015, going to work commonly means leaving home to travel to somewhere you don’t want to be, to do something you don’t want to do, producing something for someone you’ll never see, to get money to pay for something that you want. What if you could instead just make what you want?
In the largest-ever gathering of heads of state, the Sustainable Development Goals were launched at the UN in 2015. These target worthy aims including ending poverty and hunger, ensuring access to healthcare and energy, building infrastructure, and reducing inequality. Left unsaid is how to accomplish these, with an assumption that it will require spending vast amounts of money to meet them. But development does not need to recapitulate the industrial revolution; just as developing countries have been able to skip over landlines and go right to mobile phones, mass manufacturing with global supply chains can be replaced with sustainable local on-demand fabrication of all of the ingredients of a technological civilization. This is a profound challenge, but it’s one with a clear research roadmap, and is the scientific story behind the news.

let’s do this firstfree art-ists.

a nother way


2003 –  Time to Make the Computer Vanish

There is a surprising need for emergent technologies in many of the least developed places on the planet. While our needs might be fairly well met, there are billions of people on the planet whose needs are not. Their problems don’t need incremental tweaks in current technology but a revolution.