Hardware Softwarization

Is a building still a building if no one built it, but rather… printed it?

Apis is a startup based in San Francisco that is hitting the news for having 3d-printed a small house in 24hours. 3D print is destined to lower hugely the costs of buildings -and virtually anything else-  and as a result to revolutionize the way we think of our hardware, of our objects, and therefore the sanctuary called a “home” where we like to collect them all.

The softwarization of hardware has begun, and it will bring our world to an era where the distinction between software and hardware will be thinner and thinner: when in 1949 the Eniac computer took about 3 days to calculate the value of π down to 2000 decimals, no one thought that it was just at the beginning, but as we know now, it was.
3 decades later, in 2.9 hours we went down to 4 million decimals, today Eniac efforts can be emulated on your phone in seconds.

It doesn’t take an oracle to foresee that is only a matter of time until someone will find a way to print a bigger house in 1 hour, and then in minutes, and one day -maybe- it will just be as fast as firing an app on your phone.

And of course research is not only dedicating efforts to house printing: in this very moment companies are researching and developing methods for printing your chairs, your bath tube, your wardrobe, and even its content: your clothes… none of this is science fiction, prototypes already exist in each of those areas, and are improving month by month.

The overall results of such technology are unimaginable, but we can imagine a world in which we will print our dining table for dinner, and unprint it  the moment we finish eating, together with the dishes, glasses, and chairs, then reorganize the space in seconds to turn it into a home theathre with comfortable armchairs and side tables for our drink.

As of today, this is how the world works in video games! This is how software works: you don’t need a table in your 3d cad? Hit delete and the table is gone… but you can save it and put it back there tomorrow of course! This is why 3d print will make our hardware -the real world- behave a lot more like a software, digitally stored and ready to be copied an infinite number of times.

But while this article focuses on homes and the implication of the particular technology that emerged today, the questions that are raised are much more far reaching than “what will my home look like?”…  if each and everyone of your belongings -and in fact any object at all- will be ready printable and unprintable in seconds for you wherever a coin operated 3d-print-distributor is available, would there still be a point having to collect them all in one place called a “home”? Or will the meaning of “home” change all together into something different that we cannot yet comprehend?

Technology has already enabled a wave of digital nomadism and digitizing the hardware -making the tangible 3d objects just as portable as a picture in the cloud- is but another step towards the same direction.

As with any revolution, the day will come when the advantages will clearly outweigh the fear for an epochal change and the unknown world that waits to embrace us on the other side of it.

It is however a matter of time… most likely decades, and we will probably have enough time to get used or even eagerly anticipate the coming of the technology… much in the same way we got used to having a super-calculator in our pockets, and we look with anticipation to the release of the next model!

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