Wealth Without Money/zh cn

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-- Main.AdrianBowyer - 24 Feb 2006



A low-melting-point metal-alloy deposition head built in a commercial rapid prototyping machine. It is about 150mm tall. The head was made to demonstrate a new RP process that we have developed for the direct incorporation of electrical conductors into rapid prototypes, and actually to do the incorporating.

马克思和恩格斯在共产党宣言中说到,“无产阶级指的是当代工资劳动阶级,他们生产的产品并不归他们所有,廉价出卖掉自己的劳动力只是为了生存的人们。” 这个对当时社会问题的“诊断”本质上是对的; 这里的问题就是老生常谈的生产资料所有制的问题,人们可以很容易的利用手里已有的资源获得更多的资源,对于手里没有资源的人就得想尽方法努力去积攒资源,而实际上大部分人根本没机会积攒资源。对此马克思主义有说到,要想解决这一问题,那么无产阶级就得革命,通过革命的方式夺来生产资料,此乃是人类史上空前绝后最烂的主意。这主意会制造大量死亡,在近一百年里这个主意弄死的人比纳粹主义弄死的人还多。所以马克思主义者想出的这个“药方”并不像它的“诊断”那么正确 。所以它的预期也就不对,革命没有像它开始预期的首先发生在工业化最先进的国家(英国),相反,实际上马克思主义的革命趋向于发生在从农业化到工业化过度的国家中。

所以马克思只说对三分之一,没说对多少。 不过我们要继承他说对的部分(关于“诊断”的部分),继续往下读。

在二十世纪中期 冯-诺依曼 提出一个通用结构 一种可以自我复制的机械结构。 从此许多人都开始实现他的观点,有的在软件仿真方面实现, 有的在 物理实物方面实现。 而在物理实现方面,当下所有的系统结构都需要一堆非常繁杂的基础材料。而写这篇简短的文章的目的就是要你知道,在这里正从事一种 直写快速原型技术直写快速原型技术的开发,这个技术也许不是最重要部分,但也是比其他大部分合起来都应值得重视的。这个开发最终将实现一个可以自我复制的直写快速原型机器。我敢说这是我们已有无数冯-诺依曼通用结构中第一个有点用处的版本。 这里的“有点用处”我是指它的确可做些我们想要的东西出来。当你不知道我在说什么时,或者要开始争论为啥这个自我复制是那么重要呢,在此,不如先让我准确的描述一下这个“自我复制”,我指的这个“自我复制”的快速原型机器是可以制造它自己身上大部分的部件,但除了:

Self-tapping steel screws,
Brass bushes,
Lubricating grease,
Standard electronic chips such as microcontrollers and optical sensors,
A standard plug-in low-voltage power brick, and
Stepper motors.

This list is an attempt to make a compromise between immediately-achievable technology and the desirable aim of shortening or eliminating it altogether. Note that it implies a machine that is capable of building three-dimensional objects from both an electrically insulating material and a conductor, like our deposition head in the picture. After the components have been made, it is quite acceptable for a person to assemble the machine from those components and the standard parts listed above, and to copy the firmware from the parent machine's microcontroller into that of the child.

The original idea of a Universal Constructor was of a machine that would both self-copy and self-assemble - as a bacterium or a daffodil do. The machine I propose will self-copy, but not self-assemble. In nature all four possibilities exist: things that neither self-copy nor self-assemble, like rocks; things that self-copy but don't self-assemble, like viruses; things that self-assemble but don't self-copy, like proteins; and finally things that both self-copy and self-assemble, like you and me. And you and I are quite dexterous at assembling machines that we want (even if we do swear at flat-pack furniture), so the second alternative (self-copying without self-assembly) is economically and practically the most interesting option. This web-page, therefore, is about making a useful virus that is as big as a fridge...

It would also be useful (though not initially essential) if the machine could grow itself by making appropriate components to extend its own movement axes, and could self-calibrate (possibly using an accurate reference object or a pattern of standard size) so that child machines would make products as accurately as their parent machine.

The three most important aspects of such a self-copying rapid-prototyping machine are that:

  • 1. The number of them in existence and the wealth they produce can grow exponentially,
  • 2. The machine becomes subject to evolution by artificial selection, and
  • 3. The machine creates wealth with a minimal need for industrial manufacturing.

Let us examine those three statements in more detail.

Firstly, and most obviously, exponential growth: all current engineering production generates goods in an arithmetic progression. Sometimes this is very fast; suppose an injection moulding machine makes plastic combs at the rate of 10,000 an hour. Suppose further that a self-copying rapid-prototyping machine can make one copy of itself a day, and also just one comb. After merely 18 days, the rapid-prototyping machines will be making more combs than the injection moulder, assuming people give them house-room. Self-copying rapid-prototyping machines can multiply exponentially and so can the goods they produce. No technology other than self-copying can do this, and exponential production growth is the fastest that is mathematically possible (which is why all living organisms use it). At one machine per day, after one month there would be a machine for every man, woman, and child on the planet. Raw materials might be a bit of a bottle-neck, of course...

Secondly, evolution: for the machine to be able to copy itself, its own CAD design needs to be available along with it, for example on a copyable CD. People may just have their machine copy itself, or they may improve the design (and its firmware) and have their existing parent machine make their new, and better, child machines instead. That's how we made a labrador out of a wolf. Thus the machines will improve; good designs will come to predominate, and the lesser ones will fall by the wayside. This is almost the same as Darwinian evolution, but with one important difference: in nature, mutations are random, and only a tiny fraction are improvements; but with self-copying rapid-prototyping machines, every mutation is a product of analytical thought. This means that the rate of improvement should be very rapid, at least at the start. It also means that the initial design does not need to be very good, as long as it's capable of making a copy of itself and producing some other useful objects. Evolution can be relied on to make very good designs emerge quickly. It will also gradually eliminate items from my initial list of parts that need to be externally supplied. Finally here, note that any old not-so-good machine can still make a new machine to the latest and best design.

Thirdly, the minimal need for industrial manufacturing: it does not matter how much the first machine costs, the second will only cost as much as its raw materials and its assembly. And so will all subsequent machines. A company (or an individual) who acquires one machine can thereby have any number they want. This could turn rapid prototyping from a development into a production technology. It also means that people of modest means will be able to own them, and also let their friends have copies. They will be able to make themselves a new flute, a new digital camera, or just a new comb by downloading the designs for them from the Web. Some of the designs will be sold; some will be available free. Industrial production may be needed for the raw materials in considerable quantities, and will be subject to the normal market forces that keep the price of non-innovative standard products low. (Note that strategies such as those used by printer manufacturers to keep the price of consumable inkjet cartridges artificially high - having unique protected designs, and incorporating counter chips to prevent refilling - will not work with the raw materials for self-copying rapid-prototyping machines because people will simply re-design the machines to bypass such artificial restrictions on the materials they consume.) However, there is also another route to the creation of raw materials, and that is to use polymers like polylactic acid that can be made by fermentation from biomass. Thus a person with a few tens of square meters of land on which to grow a starch-crop (like maize) could make their own polymer (the machine being able to make the fermenter, of course). Then not only would the machine be self-replicating, the material supply would be too. In addition, it would even take CO2 out of the atmosphere and lock it away in plastic goods, though polylactic acid is biodegradable.

- - o - -

I have no need to buy a spare part for my broken vacuum cleaner when I can download one from the Web; indeed, I can download the entire vacuum cleaner. Nor do I need a shop or an Internet mail-order warehouse to supply me with these things. I just need to be able to buy standard parts and materials at the supermarket alongside my weekly groceries.

The self-copying rapid-prototyping machine will allow people to manufacture for themselves many of the things they want, including the machine that does the manufacturing. It is the first technology that we can have that will simultaneously make people more wealthy whilst reducing the need for industrial production.

However, when everyone has a wealth machine in their attic, they will make things on a whim, and most of those things will be junk. Also, there will be no real need to make things durable - when something breaks, people will just make another. Soon we will all be knee-deep in broken or unwanted consumer goods and these will need to be efficiently re-cycled back into raw building material. I originally thought that, along with building-material production and distribution, this recycling was going to be a big industrial opportunity. Then I realised that every machine can make its own small recycler - it can eat.

- - o - -

So the replicating rapid prototyping machine will allow the revolutionary ownership, by the proletariat, of the means of production. But it will do so without all that messy and dangerous revolution stuff, and even without all that messy and dangerous industrial stuff. Therefore I have decided to call this process Darwinian Marxism...

Adrian Bowyer 2 February 2004; updated: 21 June 2005, 1 December 2005, 24 February 2006, 18 March 2007

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