This morning I went to the BCIT Campus where Pam works during the week. It was entirely a coincidence that a focus group that I was invited to be a participant in was being held happened to be on the campus. As a further coincidence, this was a big weekend for BCIT. They were holding their Open House, which comes around once every other year. It’s a combination Career Day, Carnival and Science Fair. Students and Faculty vied for who could come to their particular demonstration, be it welding, food technology, concrete fabrication, robotics or any other technological or trade-oriented field you could imagine. For me the highlight of wandering around taking in all these gizmos and other fun (and sometimes dazzling) equipment and student projects was coming into close contact with a device that I’d only read about in Wired Magazine: a 3D Printer. The idea here is that there’s a device about the size of a large office copier with a bin full of cornstarch. Layer by layer, it creates a solid model of whatever you send to it, much like sending a 2D image to a laser printer. You can see a typical one here. It’s used these days to make prototypes of designs. The professor who was on hand to show it displayed a bottle and a small Egyptian-style sculpture, and an entire ball-bearing assembly, all ‘printed’ on the device. This was the cheapest type of stereolithography, he said, and the cornstarch in this one could be replaced in other types of these devices with plastic pellets that could be melted precisely so that you could get a real, usable squeeze bottle. Onboard the International Space station, he said, rather than ship items up from Earth, they planned to fabricate items right there using something like this. So those transporter-based food replicator units from Star Trek are really not that far away!
Later, when I got home, I kept thinking of that ball-bear assembly (which was created not piece-by-piece, but all at once!), I was reminded of the scene in Woody Allen’s early film Sleeper. It’s when he and Diane Keaton have infiltrated the Orwellian government buildings and are impersonating doctors who are going to clone the dictator, who’s nose is all that’s left from an accident. Desperately bluffing (and squabbling) as they stall for time, Woody lays out the clothing on the bed and places the nose where it would be on a face, claiming that they would clone the leader right into his clothes. “When we’re done you’ll have a fully clothed man lying here.” Those little balls of cornstarch rolling around in the cornstarch flange or whatever it was are what reminded me of the Fearless Leader being cloned into his clothes.
The teacher quoted William Gibson: “The future is here. It is just not widely distributed yet”.
What a cool place to get some fresh future.