Health care costs in the U.S. have been rising so steadily for so long that containment barely seems possible. Even optimists don’t dream of cutting the price tag. As its official name — the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — suggests, Obamacare aims for affordability, not radical reduction.But at a time when we’re all […]
When you type a website address into a browser, you might have noticed that the letters “http” appear at the front. “HTTP” stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol. In typing a Web address, you are actually sending an HTTP command to transmit that website to you. Hypertext Transfer Protocol is the means by which information is […]
Picture the scene. It’s 2020. You’re at the checkout in a convenience store with a carton of milk. But you’ve got no cash and you’ve left your cards at home. No problem. You scan your right index finger; the green light flashes. Purchase approved and you leave. Easy.Is this a realistic vision of the future, […]
After a week of reckoning about the American oil and gas boom… I’ve got to get something off my chest.I can’t stand it when a coworker takes credit for something I did.Whether it’s a special report I wrote or just a little investing trick I found on my own — if someone takes it and […]
Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously used the term “forgotten man” in a 1932 speech to describe those at the bottom of the economic pyramid who, he felt, government should aid.But the originator of the phrase “forgotten man” had a whole different meaning in mind. He aimed to expose the seeming good intentions of government to reveal […]
I want to share some insight and give you a front-row seat to America’s next big shale play.Let’s get to it…Over the past 10 years, the U.S. has turned the ship around, quite literally.We’ve gone from a country that was expecting to import massive amounts of oil and gas — to a country that’s sitting […]
Whatever your views on the role of government, one thing is clear: There will be no way to pay for it if the economy doesn’t grow. And I’m not talking by a measly percentage point or two. If we can’t find our way back to 5% annual economic growth or above soon, America’s accumulated federal […]
What if I told you that the march of human progress could be traced in a direct line from the Epicureans of Ancient Greece… through the 18th Century’s cure for smallpox… to where Steve Jobs and Bill Gates found inspiration as scrappy teenagers… to the flying car of tomorrow?Stay with me and I’ll show you […]
Real progress happens through real people, ideas, and innovations. Not by legislation argued and debated in Congress. Right now, one of the most influential technologies is changing the way people do business. And reinventing the future in the process.
Innovation can change the world… if the world lets it. Unfortunately, society’s gatekeepers make it a point to constrain, regulate, and control these ideas. But their power is limited, and the power of innovation is too great. Unfortunately for regulators, there are some technologies they can’t control.
What’s the #1 reason a start-up fails?It runs out of money!And why would it run out of money?Because nobody wants the product it’s selling!For early-stage investors, this presents a bit of a conundrum:If a product doesn’t exist yet, how do you figure out if there’s demand for it?And how do you figure it out before […]
A cushy job in Hawaii that pays six figures. A beautiful girlfriend/boyfriend. Job security and professional experience that gives you plenty of future opportunities. Would you throw that all away to do what you think is right? Last year, one government contractor did just that. And now you see the world the government tried to hide from you.
Every time Bitcoin crashes, it winds up at a price greater than it’s previous high. Yet the experts still call it a currency fad that will fade away. But a little over a year since it really took up, the digital currency is still going strong, and is once again seeing its price rise. But is there another reason why people are buying Bitcoins.
According to some estimates, one man - whose name you're probably not familiar with - has saved over a billion lives. Who is he? And how has he influenced the current crop of innovators? Josh Grasmick explains...
Edward Snowden’s one year visa in Russia expires at the end of next month. With only a few weeks left before he finds himself without a safe country to live in, he sat down to give an exclusive interview. Here are the most important things he wants you to remember from his recent sacrifice.
Biotech breakthroughs and other transformative innovations are a few of the brightly shining spots in the U.S. economy. In fact, Paul Mampilly believes this is the golden age of biotech investing, and that you can earn massive returns while investing in companies with drugs that benefit all of humanity. Read on for his latest example...
Harold Hamm isn’t your typical entrepreneur. His life’s story shows you success in America doesn’t always depend on a fat checkbook
Obama recently claimed this was the “Decade of the Brain”. But it not the first time the government made that promise. The last time they did it, they wasted millions of your tax dollars. Now they’re back for round two. But this time, their failure could mean more than squandered money. It could mean making Alzheimer’s even worse for those who suffer from it.
Does owning a gun mean you’re guilty until proven innocent? Considering what happened to one man from Florida, that might be the case. But there’s more to this story than just a case of police overreach. Police departments across the nation could be implementing a new technology that puts the burden of innocence squarely on your shoulders.
American ingenuity. It’s the stuff of lore and legend, and it’s what drives the global economy. We literally bank on the next disruptive entrepreneur — and innovative new technology — to completely redefine or create new industries. It’s what America does really well, our goose that continues to lay golden eggs.And yet, maybe not.The truth […]
When Michael Lewis’ new book Flash Boys came out, the author caused a stir while making the media rounds to promote it. “The stock market is rigged,” he told 60 Minutes flatly. His comments set off a firestorm of debate as to whether sharp techies and their fast computers are screwing small investors.As titillating as […]
Last November, when the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) proposed moderating years of escalating mandates by reducing the amount of ethanol that must be mixed into gasoline, a top ethanol lobbyist seemed perplexed. “We’re all just sort of scratching our heads here today and wondering why this administration is telling us to burn less of a […]
Why Is U.S. Health Care So Much More Expensive?After years of research and many conversations with health policy experts, I see three key culprits of expensive health care in the U.S.In no particular order, they are the third-party payer system (i.e., employer-provided health care), malpractice suits, and administrative support costs/paperwork.The unintended consequence of institutionalized employer-provided […]
At the recently concluded Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russian security officials used state of the art facial recognition software to identify potential terrorists. Today, Byron King takes a closer look at this sophisticated new technology and what it means for the future of national security. Read on...
Back in the 1980s, John Nestor became infamous for single-handedly causing massive traffic jams on the Capital Beltway. But in his professional life, he created a completely different kind of traffic jam... one that may have contributed to the deaths of thousands of innocent people. Juan Enriquez has the full story. Read on...
Entrepreneurs innovate. Bureaucrats regulate. It’s the eternal struggle that exists in our modern economy/government. The people in power try to make the playing field as even and fair as possible. While innovators buck the rules and push the world toward a better tomorrow.
Technological progress moves the world forward. It finds ways to do things better, for less money, while using fewer resources. And if you ask any politician, they’ll tell you that’s the way to grow the economy and get America back on track. But if that progress threatens one of the government’s sacred programs, then that’s a different story. One that results in a crackdown on progress, and protection of the status quo.
“Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.”
When Capt. Jean-Luc Picard wants a steaming beverage in his ready room aboard the starship Enterprise, he just utters those words. The ship’s “replicator” then assembles the necessary atoms — including those for the cup — and produces it, ready for the drinking. Picard thinks nothing of it — it’s hardly more remarkable to him than a microwave oven is to us today. Just as we now use radio waves to excite atoms and generate heat in our own kitchens (which would have been mind-blowing in the 1950s), his replicator uses some fancy energy technology that is never quite specified in Star Trek: The Next Generation to get atoms to self-assemble into food and drink.
That’s science fiction, but it’s actually not impossible. When you see an industrial 3-D printer working today, with a little poetic license you can glimpse the beginnings of something similar. A bath of liquid resin lies inert, a primordial soup. A laser begins tracing patterns in it, like lightning. Shapes form and emerge from the nutrient bath, conjured as if by magic from nothing.
OK, poetic license revoked — we’re still a long way from molecular self-assembly, or at least in any useful way. A 3-D printer can only work with one material at a time, and if you want to combine materials, you need to have multiple print heads or switch from one to another, like the different color cartridges in your desktop inkjet printer. We can only work at a resolution of about 50 micrometers (the thickness of a fine hair), while nature works at a thousand times finer detail, of a few tens of nanometers. And there’s nothing self-assembling about the way a 3-D printer works: It does all the assembling itself, with the brute force of a laser solidifying a powder or liquid resin, or melting plastic and spreading it down in a fine line.
But you get the point. We can imagine something, draw it on a computer, and a machine can make it real. We can push a button and an object will appear (eventually). As Arthur C. Clarke put it, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” This is getting close.
You may think of 3-D printing as bleeding-edge technology today, the stuff of high-end design workshops and geeks. But you may have encountered a 3-D printer already, in ways so prosaic you didn’t even notice.
Take custom dental fittings, such as those that change the alignment of the teeth over months with a series of slightly different mouth guards, each of which shifts the teeth imperceptibly into a new position. In that case, a dental technician scans the current position of your teeth, and then software mathematically models all the intermediate positions to the desired endpoint. Finally, those positions are 3-D printed in plastic as a series of mouth guards that you wear, each for two or three weeks, until your teeth are in the new position.
Likewise for the prototypes of practically every gadget you’ve ever bought, and the architectural models for the newer buildings around you. Custom prosthetics are 3-D printed. If you’re lucky enough to have a dentist who can replace a crown in a single sitting, that’s probably 3-D printed (then sprayed with enamel) in the office. Doctors have printed and replaced an entire human jaw from titanium.
Today, you can buy a custom 3-D printed action figure of your World of Warcraft character or your Xbox Live avatar. And if you go to Tokyo, you can have your head scanned and you can buy a photorealistic action figure of yourself (try not to get too creeped out).
Commercial 3-D printing only works with a few dozen types of materials, mostly metals and plastics of various sorts, but more are in the works. Researchers are experimenting with more exotic materials, from wood pulp to carbon nanotubes, that give a sense of the scope of this technology. Some 3-D printers can print electrical circuits, making complex electronics from scratch. Yet others print icing onto cupcakes and extrude other liquid foods, including melted chocolate.
At the huge scale, there are already 3-D printers that can make a multistory building by “printing” concrete. Right now that requires a 3-D printer the size of the building, but it may someday be built into the cement truck itself with a concrete that uses positional awareness to decide where to put down concrete and how much, directly reading and following the architect’s CAD plans.
Meanwhile, researchers are working just as hard at moving in the other direction: 3-D printing at the molecular scale. Today there are “bioprinters” that print a layer of a patient’s own cells onto a 3-D-printed “scaffold” of inert material. Once the cells are in place, they can grow into an organ, with bladders and kidneys already demonstrated in the lab. Print with stem cells, and the tissue will form its own blood vessels and internal structure.
Today’s vision for 3-D printing is grand in ambition. Carl Bass, the CEO of Autodesk, one of the leading companies making 3-D authoring CAD software, sees the rise of computer-controlled fabrication as a transformative change on the order of the original mass production. Not only can it change the way traditional consumer goods are made, but 3-D printing can also work on scales as small as biology and as large as houses and bridges.
In an essay he published in The Washington Post, Bass explained what’s so different about this way of making things:
“The ability to produce a small number of high-quality items and sell them at reasonable prices is causing an enormous economic disruption. In it, you can see the future of American manufacturing.
“In a computerized manufacturing process like 3-D printing, complexity and quality come are free… A traditional paper printer can print a circle or a copy of the Mona Lisa with equal ease. The same rule applies to a 3-D printer.”
From a design perspective, this is revolutionary. It is no longer necessary for the designer to care or know about the manufacturing process, because the computer-controlled machines figure that stuff out for themselves. The same design can be fabricated in metal, plastic, cardboard, or cake icing. (It might not be very useful in all those materials, but it would exist.) “We can separate the design of a product from its manufacture for the first time in history, because all of the information necessary to print that object is built into the design.” Bass explained.
Even better, as 3-D printers proliferate and become used for small-scale bespoke or custom-made manufacturing, they can provide a more sustainable way of making things. There are little or no transportation costs, because the product is made locally. There is little or no waste, because you use no more raw material than you need. And because the product is custom-made just for you, you’re more likely to value it and keep it longer. Personalized products are less disposable; you simply care about them more.
Rich Karlgaard, the publisher of Forbes magazine, thinks that 3-D printing “could be the transformative technology of the 2015-2025 period.” He writes:
“This has the potential to remake the economics of manufacturing from a large-scale industry back to an artisan model of small design shops with access to 3-D printers. In other words, making stuff, real stuff, could move from being a capital-intensive industry into something that looks more like art and software. This should favor the American skill set of creativity.
But also remember what 3-D printing and any other digital production technique cannot do. They offer no economies of scale. It is no cheaper on a per unit basis to make a thousand than one. Instead, they offer exactly the opposite advantage: There is no penalty for changing each individual unit or making just a few of a kind.
It is the reverse of mass production, which favors repetition and standardization. Instead, 3-D printing favors individualization and customization. The big win of the digital manufacturing age is that we can have our choice between the two without having to fall back on expensive handcrafting: Both mass and custom are now viable automated manufacturing methods.
– Chris Anderson
This essay was excerpted from Chris Anderson’s book Makers: The New Industrial Revolution.