This Tuesday I had the chance to visit the Edinburgh Hacklab and I had a great time checking out the great equipment(laser cutters, 3D printers & more) as well as talking to different people about their various projects. I also caught up with Konstantinos, who used to work for Adam Stokes’ robotics lab at the university. A few people warmed up to my idea of building a galloping hexapod but what impressed me most was the vibrant activity. Unlike the University of Edinburgh, where I study, everybody was building something with a sense of purpose.
Hacker Spaces, Fab Labs, Maker Spaces…whatever you call them, they have the potential to unleash great products in the areas of virtual reality, robotics and even biotech. This statement isn’t baseless. For reasons that universities conveniently ignore, a disproportionate number of Kickstarter projects and startups come from what I shall call Hacker Spaces, from hereon. In spite of this, most Hacker Spaces don’t get regular funding while the price of university education keeps going up.
Following my observations, I decided to check EU innovation schemes. Whichever resource you check there is no mention of Hacker Spaces, Fab Labs…etc.
This confirms my belief that very often governments place their money into whatever sounds impressive. You have to look no further than the Human Brain Project. I don’t have a lot more respect for tech investors in the field of AI either. Nobody wants to admit that we are very far from cockroach-level AI because a startup working on cockroach-level AI is a very hard sell. So here we are in the developed world spending tons of money on headline-grabbing research/innovation instead of focusing on good technology.
Next, I decided to contact several leading silicon valley innovators that started with Hacker Space projects. However, the consistent reply was that they weren’t aware of any detailed economic research. One of them mentioned that terminology might be useful as there are at least three variants, hence my decision to coin an umbrella term. Another asked me whether I was making an assumption that they did indeed contribute to significant economic growth as there’s a difference between a good product and a sustainable company. That’s a good point which I’d like to address.
It’s true that there’s a significant difference between being able to bring a good product to market and being able to run a company well. I’d say that Steve Jobs and the Macintosh is the prototype example. The product was good but it failed for many reasons that wouldn’t be clear to a product designer. However, it’s not clear to me that Palmer Lucky would have managed Oculus Rift well if Facebook hadn’t purchased it and brought its disciplined engineering culture and management structure to such an ambitious project. My thesis is that a good product eventually leads to economic growth as it shows that a market exists for that product and that it’s possible to build such a product. Basically, others will quickly fill the gaps.
Another thing I find pretty cool about Pauli Spaces is that they have the potential to decentralise economic growth. In the future you wouldn’t necessarily need to move your robotics company from Pennsylvania to Boston. Some people object to this by saying that skilled labour is scarce. This argument would be valid if not for the fact that a large number of PhDs from science and engineering can’t find good jobs after obtaining their doctorate. There’s plenty of brilliance out there that’s unappreciated.
Meanwhile, the rate of change of industry continues to outpace the rate of change of the higher education system which charges obscene rates for an increasingly irrelevant education. It’s clear to me and many others that this can’t continue for much longer but I’m not dismal about the future. Hacker Spaces give me hope and in a few months I shall even make this point precise with quantitative studies on the subject.