Rebirth of industry in the US will be fuelled by the internet



Makers: The New Industrial Revolution
Chris Anderson
Random House

As editor-in-chief of the award- winning tech magazine Wired and author of the New York Times bestseller The Long Tail (about how the internet is changing business), Chris Anderson is keenly aware of the most cutting-edge trends in e-commerce, computers, social media, web-surfing and related topics. That is both the strength and weakness of his latest book, Makers: The New Industrial Revolution.

The book describes a future where do-it-yourself (DIY) technology, cooked up by amateurs and solo entrepreneurs on their home computers, will radically alter research, design, manufacturing, finance, marketing, employment, global trade and even the human body - a future "where western countries like the United States regain their lost manufacturing might".

Indeed, in Anderson's view, the world is well on its way to that arrangement. Small fabrication machines can already create what he calls "Real Stuff" - from plastic toy blocks to dental fillings - directly from relatively simple software instructions, almost as easily as a printer can whip out a document.

Aficionados send their computer codes, ideas and designs across the web via open-source communities, freely available to all. As Anderson defines the "Makers" of his title: "By simply bringing the web's culture and collaboration to the process of making, they're combining to build something on a scale we've never seen from DIY before."

Anderson's knowledge of technology - both the broad sweep of potential applications and the intricate mechanical details - is impressive. Yet his glowing vision seems to be based in part on the questionable assumption that the rest of humanity lives in a rarefied culture similar to his own neighbourhood just north of Silicon Valley in California. In this tech-enabled world, everyone apparently uses Adobe Illustrator's drawing programme and a Ning platform, sharing their designs with each other in the Cadsoft Eagle format and then uploading the files to a company like Ponoko or Pololu to manufacture, if they don't have their own CNC router such as ShopBot.

"That is just the first wave of what is quickly becoming a mainstream phenomenon," the author claims. "We are all designers now."

Mainstream? All? Well, no doubt that's true of Anderson, who started two tech companies in his spare time. But he might want to step outside the confines of California to take in a more balanced view of the world.

To be fair, the second half of Makers ignores those assumptions and delves into a much more wide-ranging analysis of the implications of the technology.

Anderson goes back into history to find the roots of the electronic DIY movement in the mass production of the Industrial Revolution, as well as the workbench tinkering of his own grandfather, who patented an automatic garden sprinkler system in 1943. In the bad old days, he writes, "My grandfather could invent the automatic sprinkler system in his workshop, but he couldn't build a factory there. To get to market, he had to interest a manufacturer in licensing his invention. And that is not only hard, but requires the inventor to lose control of his or her invention." It is also a rigid system, because the only way the manufacturer can make a decent profit is to churn out huge quantities of identical products.

Modern electronic technology is changing this mentality by giving companies more flexibility, according to Anderson. Merely by rejiggering software codes, manufacturers can profitably make - and constantly readjust - small batches of customised niche products. More important, the shrunken scale opens the door to individual inventor- entrepreneurs.

A key turning point was the introduction of Apple's powerful desktop laser printer, the LaserWriter, in 1985. Now anyone could write, design, and roll out multiple copies of a "newspaper", without the need for massive paper mills or printing presses.

That simple concept of printing from your home keyboard has branched out into multiple ramifications. On the hardware side, more elaborate versions of the printer now allow "printing" in 3D - in other words, fabricating a three-dimensional object. Where a traditional laser printer follows computer instructions to squirt ink onto paper, a 3D printer "just does the same thing with more motors and squirts more than just ink," as Makers puts it. For instance, the 3D version may squirt melted plastic in layers to gradually build up a shape.

Meanwhile, in the area of communication, the desktop printer led to Twitter, blogs, eBay and Facebook. "Once people were given the power of the press, they wanted to do more than print out newsletters," the book says. "So when the web arrived, 'publishing' became 'posting' and they could reach the world."

Inevitably, as Anderson sees it, some people moved beyond posting gossip and chitchat online, and started sharing business concepts. As inventors post their drafts and concepts through various open-source communities, and suggestions bounce back and forth among whoever happens to log onto that conversation, the inventors "get feedback as well as help in promotion, marketing, and fixing bugs".

One example of such crowdsourced creativity is the "Pivot Power" flexible power strip, an upgrade of the standard block of multiple outlets. Each outlet in this new version can pivot, thus allowing a couple of small plugs to squeeze in between one bulky adapter. A programmer from Wisconsin tossed the idea into the virtual suggestion box of a website called Quirky, and after enough people expressed interest, the Quirky staff refined it and found a factory to make the gadget.

But all that is so 20th century. "You think the last two decades were amazing?" Anderson asks rhetorically. "Just wait."

For instance, he sees a need for better group-financing tools. Right now there are websites like Quirky and Kickstarter, where creators post their ideas and seek contributions. A new US law, the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act, allows small companies to raise a maximum US$1 million (Dh3.6m) from crowdsourcing websites without going through the elaborate financial disclosure usually required for stock market listings. However, these existing methods have size limitations.

And the concept of planned obsolescence will disappear, now that it's so easy to rewrite software to make improvements, with the open-source community constantly feeding ideas, the book predicts. "As products like cars become more about their software than their hardware, … they can get better after you buy them, not worse."

Many commentators have noted that manufacturing is inching back to the US, for a variety of reasons, including rising wages in China; increased automation, which makes labour costs less important anyway; and a growing realisation of the advantages of locating factories near the end-user. To that, Anderson adds another explanation - the nimbleness and creativity of the US crowdsourcing movement and bootstrap inventors like his grandfather.

Makers is a surprisingly easy read despite its technical basis, because Anderson is very good at explaining the concepts in lay terms. To illustrate his points, he brings in not only his grandfather, but also his daughters and his attempt to build them an auto-piloted airplane out of Lego blocks.

However, the author's blithe optimism seriously weakens his case. His assumption that "we are all designers" who noodle around with 3D printers and CNC routers, making customised Lego M1 infantry rifles for our kids (yes, that's in the book), is only part of the problem.

It's rather surprising that someone who earns his living through traditional media - his magazine and books - seems so unaware of the downside of online self-publishing, including the uncontrollable spread of misinformation, embarrassing photos and content theft. Actually, Anderson sometimes seems unaware of the need to earn a living at all. "Such entrepreneurs often state that their first obligation is to serve their community, and to make money second," he writes, without any apparent scepticism.

He also evinces no queasiness as he describes the potential for genetic engineering, casually predicting that as the technological tools get more powerful and inexpensive "people will start hacking life".

Another serious problem, mainly in the first part of the book, is repetition. Indeed, this already short volume could probably be cut by about one-third, making it a perfect candidate for a technological innovation that Makers doesn't discuss: short e-books such as Amazon Singles.

In the latter sections, Anderson finally seems to acknowledge that his DIY marketplace is a small one and that "99.9 per cent of users would rather pay someone to do it for them". But that doesn't negate his predictions. His vision of a world of small-batch, personalised, home-based manufacturing could come true even if only a small percentage of laypeople did the initial tinkering, another small percentage chimed in with suggestions, another small percentage provided seed money, another small percentage spread the word, and a slightly larger customer base simply bought the stuff.

Such an outcome would be good for the world in many ways.

It would revitalise manufacturing, inspire creativity, save resources, and democratise business. For all this book's flaws, Anderson makes a persuasive case.

Fran Hawthorne is an award- winning US-based author and journalist who specialises in covering the intersection of business, finance and social policy.

Company profile

Date started: January, 2014

Founders: Mike Dawson, Varuna Singh, and Benita Rowe

Based: Dubai

Sector: Education technology

Size: Five employees

Investment: $100,000 from the ExpoLive Innovation Grant programme in 2018 and an initial $30,000 pre-seed investment from the Turn8 Accelerator in 2014. Most of the projects are government funded.

Partners/incubators: Turn8 Accelerator; In5 Innovation Centre; Expo Live Innovation Impact Grant Programme; Dubai Future Accelerators; FHI 360; VSO and Consult and Coach for a Cause (C3)

EMIRATES'S REVISED A350 DEPLOYMENT SCHEDULE

Edinburgh: November 4 (unchanged)

Bahrain: November 15 (from September 15); second daily service from January 1

Kuwait: November 15 (from September 16)

Mumbai: January 1 (from October 27)

Ahmedabad: January 1 (from October 27)

Colombo: January 2 (from January 1)

Muscat: March 1 (from December 1)

Lyon: March 1 (from December 1)

Bologna: March 1 (from December 1)

Source: Emirates

Kill

Director: Nikhil Nagesh Bhat

Starring: Lakshya, Tanya Maniktala, Ashish Vidyarthi, Harsh Chhaya, Raghav Juyal

Rating: 4.5/5

COMPANY PROFILE

Company: Sideup
Started: 2019
Founder: Waleed Rashed
Based: Cairo, Egypt
Industry: technology, e-commerce
Funds raised so far: $1.2 million
Investors: Launch Africa VC, 500 Global, Riyadh Angels, Alex Angels, Al Tuwaijri Fund and Saudi angel investor Faisal Al Abdulsalam

ARGENTINA SQUAD

Goalkeepers: Franco Armani, Agustin Marchesin, Esteban Andrada
Defenders: Juan Foyth, Nicolas Otamendi, German Pezzella, Nicolas Tagliafico, Ramiro Funes Mori, Renzo Saravia, Marcos Acuna, Milton Casco
Midfielders: Leandro Paredes, Guido Rodriguez, Giovani Lo Celso, Exequiel Palacios, Roberto Pereyra, Rodrigo De Paul, Angel Di Maria
Forwards: Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Lautaro Martinez, Paulo Dybala, Matias Suarez

Company Profile

Company name: Namara
Started: June 2022
Founder: Mohammed Alnamara
Based: Dubai
Sector: Microfinance
Current number of staff: 16
Investment stage: Series A
Investors: Family offices

How to watch Ireland v Pakistan in UAE

When: The one-off Test starts on Friday, May 11
What time: Each day’s play is scheduled to start at 2pm UAE time.
TV: The match will be broadcast on OSN Sports Cricket HD. Subscribers to the channel can also stream the action live on OSN Play.

Our legal consultant

Name: Dr Hassan Mohsen Elhais

Position: legal consultant with Al Rowaad Advocates and Legal Consultants.

COMPANY PROFILE

Name: SmartCrowd
Started: 2018
Founder: Siddiq Farid and Musfique Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech / PropTech
Initial investment: $650,000
Current number of staff: 35
Investment stage: Series A
Investors: Various institutional investors and notable angel investors (500 MENA, Shurooq, Mada, Seedstar, Tricap)

Long Shot

Director: Jonathan Levine

Starring: Charlize Theron, Seth Rogan

Four stars

Company Profile

Name: Direct Debit System
Started: Sept 2017
Based: UAE with a subsidiary in the UK
Industry: FinTech
Funding: Undisclosed
Investors: Elaine Jones
Number of employees: 8

The biog

Favourite book: You Are the Placebo – Making your mind matter, by Dr Joe Dispenza

Hobby: Running and watching Welsh rugby

Travel destination: Cyprus in the summer

Life goals: To be an aspirational and passionate University educator, enjoy life, be healthy and be the best dad possible.

SERIES SCHEDULE

First Test, Galle International Stadium
July 26-30
Second Test, Sinhalese Sports Club Ground
August 3-7
Third Test, Pallekele International Stadium
August 12-16
First ODI, Rangiri Dambulla Stadium
August 20
Second ODI, Pallekele International Stadium
August 24
Third ODI, Pallekele International Stadium
August 27
Fourth ODI, R Premadasa Stadium
August 31
Fifth ODI, R Premadasa Stadium
September 3
T20, R Premadasa Stadium
September 6

The National photo project

Chris Whiteoak, a photographer at The National, spent months taking some of Jacqui Allan's props around the UAE, positioning them perfectly in front of some of the country's most recognisable landmarks. He placed a pirate on Kite Beach, in front of the Burj Al Arab, the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland at the Burj Khalifa, and brought one of Allan's snails (Freddie, which represents her grandfather) to the Dubai Frame. In Abu Dhabi, a dinosaur went to Al Ain's Jebel Hafeet. And a flamingo was taken all the way to the Hatta Mountains. This special project suitably brings to life the quirky nature of Allan's prop shop (and Allan herself!).

if you go

The flights 

Etihad and Emirates fly direct to Kolkata from Dh1,504 and Dh1,450 return including taxes, respectively. The flight takes four hours 30 minutes outbound and 5 hours 30 minute returning. 

The trains

Numerous trains link Kolkata and Murshidabad but the daily early morning Hazarduari Express (3’ 52”) is the fastest and most convenient; this service also stops in Plassey. The return train departs Murshidabad late afternoon. Though just about feasible as a day trip, staying overnight is recommended.

The hotels

Mursidabad’s hotels are less than modest but Berhampore, 11km south, offers more accommodation and facilities (and the Hazarduari Express also pauses here). Try Hotel The Fame, with an array of rooms from doubles at Rs1,596/Dh90 to a ‘grand presidential suite’ at Rs7,854/Dh443.

The specs: 2018 Chevrolet Equinox

Price, base / as tested: Dh76,900 / Dh110,900

Engine: 2.0L, turbocharged in-line four-cylinder

Gearbox: Nine-speed automatic

Power: 252hp @ 5,500rpm

Torque: Torque: 352Nm @ 2,500rpm

Fuel economy, combined: 8.5L / 100km

UAE SQUAD

Mohammed Naveed (captain), Mohamed Usman (vice captain), Ashfaq Ahmed, Chirag Suri, Shaiman Anwar, Mohammed Boota, Ghulam Shabber, Imran Haider, Tahir Mughal, Amir Hayat, Zahoor Khan, Qadeer Ahmed, Fahad Nawaz, Abdul Shakoor, Sultan Ahmed, CP Rizwan


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