Book Launch: Designing Reality: How to Survive and Thrive in the Third Digital Revolution

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The Woodrow Wilson Center’s Science and Technology Innovation Program invites you to a book launch and discussion with Neil Gershenfeld, Alan Gershenfeld, and Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld to celebrate the publication of their new book, titled Designing Reality: How to Survive and Thrive in the Third Digital Revolution. This book focuses on the underlying principles of digital fabrication and its revolutionary potential to transform society.

“If the last 70+ years have told the story of atoms converted into bits, then the next will tell the story of bits being turned back into atoms. The members of the Gershenfeld troika arm wrestle their way through alternative future scenarios that highlight the possibilities and the challenges that computer-based fabrication offers. One could not ask for a better pointcounterpoint exploration of the third digital revolution.” — Vint Cerf, vice president and chief Internet evangelist, Google

About the Book

The first digital revolution was in communication, taking us from analog phones to the Internet. The second digital revolution was in computation, bringing us personal computers and smartphones. Together they fundamentally changed the world.

In Designing Reality, Neil Gershenfeld, Alan Gershenfeld, and Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld argue that we are now living through a third digital revolution, in fabrication. The book brings the perspectives of science, technology, social science, and humanities to the third digital revolution—through three brothers who are not only observers of the revolution but also active participants in helping guide it. They show how the widespread coverage of 3D printers, the maker movement, and the Internet of Things is just the tip of a much bigger story: bringing the programmability of the virtual world of bits into the physical world of atoms. Since that physical world is where we live, the implications of the third digital revolution may be even greater than those of its predecessors. This one is built on the same fundamental science of digital, only now it enables both bits and atoms to be manipulated. Just as digital communication and computation became personal, the digitization of fabrication offers the promise of personal fabrication, enabling individuals and communities to produce and share products on demand, wherever and whenever something is needed.

As with the early stages of the first two digital revolutions, this vision seems fantastical. And yet, not only is it theoretically possible, but we are already on the path to it becoming a reality. Fab labs, community-based labs where individuals can access powerful tools for digital fabrication, have been doubling in number every year and a half since the first lab was established in 2003. Like the early years of the first two digital revolutions, however, the explosive nature of this new revolution is not readily apparent to the casual observer. Designing Reality is about taking care to follow the exponential growth of digital fabrication. It aims to help readers use this knowledge to both prepare for and shape the trajectory of the third digital revolution.

Everyone has agency to contribute to this revolution, and Designing Reality is your guide to not just surviving but thriving in the third digital revolution.

Event Details

This event is free and open to the public, with a reception and book signing to follow. Space is limited, so please RSVP. If you are unable to attend, we invite you to stay tuned to the live webcast of the event that will be available directly on this page. Books will be available for purchase at the event.

2:00 PM – 3:30 PM Panel presentation followed by Q&A
3:30 PM – 4:00 PM Reception and book signing

Select Advance Praise

“Providing universal access to digital fabrication is one of the most important challenges and opportunities of our time. Designing Reality is a manual describing what it is, why it is important, and how to get there.” — Congressman Bill Foster, PhD

“Designing Reality is nothing less than a full-blown manifesto for ushering in the age of digital fabrication, the third leg of the digital revolution. Anchoring the authors’ comprehensive vision is the exponential growth of fab labs, a globally extant collection of now over 1,000 digital fabrication test beds. Codifying the lessons learned from more than a decade of success and failure, they powerfully advocate for fab labs as a model for accelerating the growth of and universal access to digital fabrication for all humanity.” — Justin Rattner, chief technology officer (retired), Intel Corporation

“Designing Reality is an invitation and road map for all of us to bring our talent, passion, and communities to proactively shape our shared future. . . . Challenges abound today, as do opportunities; our author-trio invite us all into the mix, because if we include everyone, we can fix (nearly) everything. Opt-in yourself, your family, your community.” — Megan J. Smith, third US chief technology officer, founder, and CEO, shift7; and Puneet Kaur Ahira, cofounder and chief architect, shift7

“In this mind-altering book, the Gershenfelds envision a future of making things that’s not dominated by big factories and powerful companies. Instead, it’s centered around local innovators using powerful tools to design and build the realities they want. If this sounds good to you, here’s the blueprint for making it happen.” — Andrew McAfee, scientist, MIT, and coauthor of The Second Machine Age and Machine, Platform, Crowd

Media inquiries should be directed to Ryan McKenna at Ryan.McKenna@wilsoncenter.org with the title of the event

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