Five Corporation-Crushing Disruptive Technologies That Will Empower the Masses

disruptive tech headerEveryone knows we are at the mercy of huge corporations in multitude of ways.  Just look at Big Oil.  We are wildly dependent on them as not only individuals, but as a nation and a world.  Though Exxon stands atop the global economic podium, the technology sector isn’t far behind.  Apple made nearly as much in profits in 2012’s fourth quarter as Exxon (a ridiculous $8.2 billion).  Let’s bring that number down to Earth a bit.  Americans are spending an average of $444 per household per year on Apple products alone.  For further evidence, just look around your living room, or better yet, consider the origin of the screen you’re currently staring at.  Chances are, one swollen oligopoly or another made all the pieces of technology you’ve surveyed in the last few seconds.

However, chinks in the armor of these untouchable behemoths are beginning to take shape, leading some, like MIT’s Neil Gershenfeld to question the sustainability of today’s techno giants. (more on that later).

It wouldn’t be the first time an unforeseen corporation-crushing power shift occurred.  Unpredictable “Black Swan” events like the advent of the PC and the emergence of MP3 left the music and computing industries confronted with a sea change that was impossible for them to adapt to.

This next wave of disruptive tech will decentralize power, putting it back into the hands of the people.  It will usher in a time where we will make our own belongings, fund our own ventures and master our own bodies and consciousnesses.  What makes this all the sweeter is that huge corporations and governments are either ignorant to it, or powerless to stop the radical change that’s coming.

5- Decentralized Currencies (Bitcoin

As Henry Ford once said, article2people would revolt if they knew how the banking system worked.  He was right on the money (no pun intended).  Many say the millions of protestors from Wall Street to Brazil to Europe have no cohesive message, but one thing is for sure, they hold similar philosophical gripes toward the world’s increasingly esoteric and sluggish financial systems.

As impossible as it may seem to circumvent the world’s financial oligarchy , some ingenious, irony-loving programmer(s) (they likely came from the very community of counter-culture that openly ridicules the system) are trying.  At the very least, they’ve managed to insert a pesky thorn in the side of governments and banks a like.  I am of course, referring to Bitcoin.

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably heard a great deal of buzz surrounding this particular crypto-currency, especially in the last few months.  Bitcoin experienced a meteoric rise along with an equally spectacular crash in a matter of weeks, leading many to jump on and off the bandwagon.  However, at the time this article is being written, a Bitcoin is still worth a far from paltry 90 dollars.  A simple Google search will yield a variety of opinions concerning the longevity of Bitcoin.  In fact, there’s plenty of speculation as to the next big digital currency will be.

Regardless, the fame gained by Bitcoin proves that many are willing to entertain the idea of using and investing in a digital currency, and that’s a regulatory headache for governments and big banks alike.  Retailers have also shown a willingness to play ball with Bitcoin, which only exacerbates the problem for those who consider it and other decentralized currencies to be pesky.  Another popular hypothesis is that it’s just a matter of time until a big online retailer like Amazon begins accepting a digital currency like Bitcoin and once that happens, expect other big players to follow suit.

4- Crowd Funding

The general icrowdfundingdea behind crowdfunding is so simple in principle that it’s a wonder no one thought of it sooner.  What it lacks in complication, it makes up for in practicality, and creative people have taken advantage in a big way. How big you ask? About 2.7 billion dollars big.  That’s how much money was raised via the digital medium in 2012.  That number may not be shaking up the conventional economy much at this stage in the game, but it certainly gives scores of worthy people the funds they need.

Pretend for a moment you’re in a band with a bit of a following.  A successful crowdfunding campaign would basically enable you to completely circumvent the need for a record label.  That means you don’t need to miss out on the lion’s share of the profit from your record sales and you don’t need to justify the marketability of your music, or compromise your vision; pretty attractive, right?

To be fair, crowdfunding isn’t always cash conjuring magic wand. The vast majority of campaigns fail to meet their goals.  In other words, if you’re just starting a project and you don’t have a way to get the word out, you’re pretty much doomed from the start.  Still, this is an extraordinarily young phenomenon. The amount of money raised via crowdfunding nearly doubled from 2011 to 2012 and 2013 will likely be another record year.

3- Graphene 

grapheneI’d start my discussion on this little piece of Nobel Prize winning nano tech by telling your what it does, but a more appropriate question would be what doesn’t it do?  It’s the strongest substance known to man, it’s more conductive than copper it’s biodegradable, it’s a super capacitor, and did I mention you can make it at home?  This substance that sounds like pure Science fiction has unbelievably humble beginnings.  In fact, when scientists began experimenting with it they were extracting it by rubbing the tips of pencils on Scotch tape.  Everyone is scrambling to gain patents pertaining to graphene, but by virtue of it being a substance that’s so simple to create yourself, it’s going to be impossible to stop people from tinkering with it.

In the next few years you’ll be seeing graphene hit the market in a multitude of forms. It will make screens that roll up like a piece of paper, wearable electronics, coatings that strengthen flexible materials, it will even be a power supply.  There are literally so many applications for this substance that the potential is limitless.  However, the real power will come to you when you combine it with a technology I will discuss later (hint hint, it’s number item number one on the list).

2- Psychedelics

Psychedelics may seem out of place in an article about technology, especially since psychedelics in and of themselves are nothing new.  However, after decades of repression and demonization, these substances are being studied seriously and the results have been undeniable.

Back in the 1990s Psychiatrist Rick Strassman conducted some the first FDA cleared clinical studies on DMT.  A compound that’s highly psychoactive secreted by our own brain’s Pineal gland. Many of the participants had valuable experiences, reporting bonafide mystical experiences (yes, there’s an actual academic distinction).  Strassman’s studies a got a long stagnant ball rolling and since then, there have been several high-profile studies conducted using psychedelics.

One such study was conducted at Johns Hopkins using Psilocybin, the active ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms.  The experiences of the participants were again highly poignant.  After more than a year, 94% of the study’s participants said the drug provided one of the top 5 most meaningful experiences of their life, with 48% saying it was the single most meaningful experience of their lives.

MDMA has also been getting a lot of attention in the field of psychotherapy, specifically regarding the treatment of PTSD.  The substance has been shown to be highly effective in combating the disorder that plagues hundreds of thousands.  In fact, a shocking 83% of the participants in these studies were no longer diagnosed with PTSD at their two-month follow up evaluations.  As if that weren’t convincing enough, 100% of the participants said that the doses were at least somewhat beneficial.

mdma-mithoeferprescription1

Undeniable data aside, the world we live in is far from one where mainstream science and medicine embrace psychedelics.  But, as we continue to study these substances and find that they’re actually useful for treating serious psychological and medical issues, future generations will undoubtedly view these compounds in a new, respectful light.  Due to the fact that these substances are also totally inseparable from deeply meaningful mystical experiences, I fail to see how their gaining legitimacy would have anything less than a profound impact on society, the kind that lead the government to clamp down on them the first place.  The difference this time needs to be enough scientific oversight to manage and administer these substances in a responsible way.

1- 3-D Printing and digital fabrication

gershenfeld_426x280When it comes to so-called “Fab Labs” that can create basically anything, there’s no greater visionary or authority than Neil Gershenfeld of MIT, so it’s fitting that he said it best. “This is like the birth of the Internet, but it’s literally an internet of things.”  Take a moment to wrap your mind around that. In what’s becoming known as the “Third Digital Revolution,” you’ll be able to download and produce an actual good on demand.  If you have a pulse, you know what happened to the music industry when the mp3 and Napster came on the scene.  It’s the same thing that happened to big data companies when the PC hit store shelves.  Although the music industry and data companies haven’t been completely wiped off the map, they’ve been fundamentally transformed and seriously comprised.  In fact, Greshenfeld often points out that IBM is basically the only pre-PC computing company to survive, and they only did so by going through a complete metamorphosis.

It really can’t be overstated how blindsided these companies were by these disruptive technologies. Ken Olson, founder of DEC (a once mighty computer company with over 140,000 employees)  said this- “There’s no reason to have a computer at home.”  Ironically, Compaq eventually bought what was left of the struggling company.

ken_olsen_cover-straightened1

From America’s “most successful entrepreneur” to running a bankrupt company.

In the interest of being evenhanded, Gershenfeld also says this revolution won’t totally destroy manufacturing. “Mass manufacturing will still stay, but it will by definition make the boring stuff because everyone gets the same thing.”  This, he says, will lead to entirely new businesses.

But what happens when people begin to circumvent the need for a business?  Mass proliferation of 3D printing and fabrication tech in concert with other modern miracles like graphene will surely give birth to it’s own version Napster or Pirate Bay.  Only this time, you won’t be downloading music or movies for free; it will be actual physical objects.  When this happens, we are talking about not only serious disruption to manufacturing, but the entire supply chain all the way on up to retail, something the economy is certainly not ready for.

When these technologies reach their fully realized forms we may hit a highly tumultuous period, but no great change comes without sacrifice.  Furthermore, what lies on the other side of that pain is an an unbelievable pay off that we can only dream about.

 (Originally posted on midwestreal.net, follow us on twitter @midwestreal)

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  • Calypso_1

    Diamond Age

  • Jiro M. Trismegistus

    Graphene Age

  • Tchoutoye

    The article suggests that disruptive technologies are going to free us from corporate behemoths, when it’s obvious these technologies are just going to replace one corporate behemoth for another, often backed by the very same sources of investment capital.

    Remember Apple’s 1984 ad, in which the plucky disruptive technology rebels of the day were going to free us from tyranny. Fast-forward 30 years and Apple and similar corporations are working together with the NSA. It won’t be any different with the graphene / 3D printing / what-have-you start-ups of the future. “An Internet of things” and graphene-based wearable computing: it’s the NSA’s wet dream of total surveillance come true.

    • alizardx

      Right, most of us have seen this movie at least once. With investor funding driven by where the VC herd is going, driven to the VC funders’ personal network (helps if you’re a white / male recent Stanford grad)

      People in the scene are already saying new gen startup work essentially entry-level corporation work with VCs as one’s investors instead of one’s direct employers.

  • alizardx

    3D printing is already in industry shakeout/consolidation phase. It’s not going to be suitable for mass production at any level for at least a decade.

    It’s a dream tool for fast prototyping and making one-off things. But given a choice between buying a spatula at a dollar store and paying several bucks for the plastic in printer cartridge (where do ink-jet print OEMs make their money) for a plastic that won’t work in a frying pan, which would you choose? Hint: you’ll have a working spatula when you get home, your printed spatula will be ready hours later assuming you started just before you went out the door.

    Also, designing in 3D software harder than it sounds. We are also a lot farther from metal printing / electronic device printing than the hypesters are willing to discuss.

    There will be plenty of uses for this, but for most, it’ll make sense to design at home and upload your design to Kinko’s for something you’ll do every few weeks.

    What’s promised is likely to become possible in a decade or two. But most discussion comes from people who don’t understand 3D print technology or volume manufacturing, usually who misunderstand both.

    • kcorb

      They’re not talking about printing spatulas, they’re talking about printing iPhones. With the introduction of graphene for circuitry, screens, etc that reality probably isn’t too far off. And, once you or someone you know has one of these 3D printers you’ll be able to use it to print another printer. No printing inks, just material feedstock sold by the pound/yard in various materials and colors. Few people will even need to worry about 3D software, they’ll just be downloading source files from the DIY community.

      You’re probably right about it being a decade away though. And the copyright police will probably make owning one of these printers an act of terrorism.

      • alizardx

        Printing more than one material at a time, particularly drastically dissimilar ones in consumer-priced 3D printers is going to take quite a while. Even affordable metal printers are years away. Printing usable microchips? Don’t hold your breath, at minimum your printed iPhone clone is going to requiring knowing how to do surface-mount soldering. The true nanotech-based printers of the future that’ll do everything? Anyone who reads this today might need life extension tech to see that work in person.

        • kcorb

          Graphene isn’t drastically dissimilar to the plastics currently used in 3D printing. No need for any metals. I would imagine printing circuitry at the specifications of current processors is probably a long way off, but buying off the shelf components via an electrical supply co and placing them on printed circuit boards would be a trivial intermediate step.

          • alizardx

            Not sure if graphene has the kind of bulk resistiivity that makes sense in a PCB or 3D equivalent. Been thinking about additive-based electronic fab processes, but not ready to talk about them yet.

        • rhetorics_killer

          “Anyone who reads this today might need life extension tech to see that work in person.”

          … This provided by genetic-medicine, happy to offer you an extra-fifty years to live along and watch your grand-grand-children get retired! Everything has been thoroughly thought: new techs and new genetics will provide happiness, in a safe new world, freed from the evil of men. The loss of balance for nature is merely a trivial prospect. And of course none will have the idea nor will afford to take the seats left vacant by former top executives.

    • The Well Dressed Man

      My sense is 3d printing is very quickly accelerating.
      Some Texans printed one very serious flyswatter, I mean spatula:
      http://techcrunch.com/2013/03/01/defense-distributed-prints-an-ar-15-receiver-that-has-fired-more-than-600-rounds/

      • alizardx

        The metal printer they used is way out of consumer price range. Typical customer for that kind of printer is corporate R&D. Metal printing difficult enough to do cheap that a metal 3D printer even in low thousands probably a decade away.

        That’s why small scale gunmaking is done with conventional (including CNC) machine tools. Though I think Remington now has a metal 3D printer.

        • The Well Dressed Man

          My understanding is the autocad file is for ABS plastic printing of all the specialized receiver parts, and that a few off-the-shelf metal parts complete the mechanical assembly. A metal barrel, chamber, and bolt are still needed, but the idea is that one can print the controlled parts of an assault rifle on a consumer-grade printer, and finish the design with commonly sold long gun parts.
          edit- link: http://defdist.tumblr.com/post/44209819568/printed-ar-lower-v5-review

        • 2cents

          Think liquid metal,aluminum,steel,copper on a 3D printer build with a different architecture than present models.

  • Noah_Nine

    (they likely came from the very community of counter-culture that openly ridicules the system)…ahem….

  • Bill

    so… anyone got any acid?

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