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3D Printing and Artificial Intelligence: manufacturing a British future

By September 13, 2017 business, food for thought

2050
The year it is expected that Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) will inevitably excel in replicating every human emotion, experience and task.

At least, these were the findings from a recent Silicon Valley A.I. survey, given to expert engineers and distributed by James Barrat (author of Artificial Intelligence and the end of the human era: Our Final Invention). With recent A.I. innovations such as Amazon Echo and Tesla’s Model S car with hands-free autopilot, engineered intelligence is imprinting itself in consumers everyday lives. Look around you. In today’s competitive business market, increasingly professionals are using or considering the use of A.I. programmed personal assistants, such as Apple’s Siri–and that’s just personal software, never mind tomorrow’s corporate demands. Inevitably we’re moving towards a hands-free workplace, and world.

Though 2050 is over three decades away, for the UK 3D printing industry, this survey could have radical implications on the way national firm manufacturing practises advance. It’s no secret that the industry is one constantly evolving and adapting to consumer needs through technological resources; and, as the country, endeavours to meet the “effective development and transfer of environmentally sound technologies” focus of The Paris Agreement, so must the print industry.

In fact, post-snap-election the British Printing Industries Federation didn’t hesitate in asking “all parliamentary election candidates – and therefore all potential PMs” to sign their Pledge for Print. The pledge challenged candidates to support the productivity and profitability of the UK printing industry if elected on June 8th. Now, with the 2017 General Election lingering over Britons and impending financial doom forecasted for the Pound, could 3D printing and A.I. combined be Britain’s economic future, post-Brexit?

Theresa May certainly thinks so. The Conservative leader launched her industrial strategy in 2016 to increase workplace productivity and generate jobs. This included appointing Jürgen Maier, Siemens UK CEO, to drive the digital printing industry forward. It is Maier’s belief that the likes of 3D printing, A.I., and additive manufacturing are the future of the British workforce. In a Guardian interview Maier quipped “we have no choice but to win the race to industrial digitalisation: there is too much at stake to fail. We have no option. We have to pull this off and if we don’t pull it off, our living standards will drop further.”

Drastic? Well, Maier and May are not alone in their thoughts of a cost-effective 3D printing industry either: “As Kleiner Perkins Partner Mary Meeker pointed out in her annual “Internet Trends” report […] retailers are now achieving $100 million (approx. £77 million) in annual revenue in five years or less; it took Nike 14 years to reach that milestone […]. The use of AI by retailers will only accelerate this trend” writes Reflektion CTO Amar Chokhawala.

Environmentally, A.I. 3D printers could also be the way forward for ecosystem sustainability and industrial manufacturing. The proof has already been seen in renewable energy. Research from Environmental Leader reported “3D printing can potentially reduce manufacturing costs by $170 billion to $593 billion (approx. £450 billion), energy use by 2.54–9.30 exajoules (EJ) and CO2 emissions by 130.5 to 525.5 metric tons by 2025.”

Whilst this all sounded very impressive at the time, it was hard to visualise the research as reality. That is, until start-up Ai Build debuted their intricately latticed structure in 2016; a gargantuan 3D printed piece manufactured using retrofitted “industrial robots with 3D printing guns and artificial intelligence algorithms.” Nifty.

Cam, Daghan. Photograph of the Daedalus Pavilion being built by A.I. robots. 3dp.ai-build.com

The hefty construction “was printed for just $185 — a fraction of the $31,000 Cam [CEO] said [a] competitor quoted to print a structure with the same specifications. Not only did the competitors lack AI, they would also need to print the piece in multiple parts. The ability to print structures as a single, complete unit gives Ai Build an undeniable edge.”

But fear not, the robots haven’t quite come for our jobs (yet).

On the contrary, there is evidence to suggest that A.I. 3D printing may be the antithesis of an industrial revolution. Aside from excluding small print businesses with costly production and elbowing labourers out of pay, the algorithms used by A.I. may soon breach legislation. As the Data Protection Act prepares to be replaced by the new General Data Protection Regulation in May 2018, current A.I. could soon be obstructing future regulations.

In a Forbes interview, Nigel Smart, University of Bristol Professor of Cryptology, explains that when the first quantum computer is created “…all of the world’s digital security is essentially broken. The internet will not be secure, as we rely on algorithms which are broken by quantum computers to secure our connections to websites, download emails and everything else. […] Banking transactions via chip-and-PIN could [also] be rendered insecure.” Ghast-worthy news, but not quite so surprising considering the ever evolving pace of the digital world.

Whilst the unclear consequences of the snap-election unfold, the future benefits of A.I. on the 3D printing industry seem luminous. Nonetheless, UK professional industries must be aware that the exponential digitisation of printing and programming don’t necessarily equate to intrinsic machine intelligence or environmental and economic solutions. So, let’s enjoy the Internet of things for now, shall we?

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