“Necessity is often not the mother of invention. In many cases, it surely has been just the opposite. When humans possess a tool, they excel at finding new uses for it. The tool often exists before the problem to be solved.”
He goes on to discuss the role emerging technologies play in great leaps of design innovation, not the needs of a consumer, user, client, focus group, whatever. A new technology exists, early adopters on the fringe experiment, fail, experiment, fail, experiment, iterate, collaborate and succeed. Success attracts money, the product makes it to market, “new applications become luxuries, then “needs,” and finally, essential.”
Now fabbers with their RepRap and Makerbots are at the cutting edge (or fabbing edge), innovating with new materials, processes and concepts that no client has specifically asked for, no one is expecting an immediate commercial venture from, but you can be sure that many things of great value will emerge.
So when we design a self replicating 3D printer are we solving a problem???? but we are enabling a problem to be unearthed (created) and solved. Sure mankind has survived X years without them. Or as Don points out:
Take a look at the powerful inventions that have changed society and ask what role design research played:
The Personal Computer
SMS Text Messaging
What role did design research play? What role did marketing research play? No role. All were driven by technology. In his recent study of technology, the economist Brian Arthur reached a very similar conclusion: technologies evolve from earlier technologies, driven by science, driven by engineering, driven by tinkerers of all sorts.
Where will fabbing take us? What innovations will it drive? What problems will it create? What problems will it solve?