Information commerce (part 3), starting the conversation

3D printer at Spectra Logic (for mechanical parts fabrication) (c) 2011 Silverton Consulting, All Rights Reserved
3D printer at Spectra Logic (for mechanical parts fabrication) (c) 2011 Silverton Consulting, All Rights Reserved

When last we discussed inter-planetary commerce the concept was that funding space-faring outposts of humanity could somehow be accomplished using commercial endeavors rather than public funding.  The assumption being that any other life bearing planet would have have it’s own evolution, creating much different organisms than the earth, different ecosystems/biomes/flora/fauna.

In addition to the distinctly different biology, there would be a whole new geophysical environment such as weather systems, volcanic activity, plate tectonics, space weather, etc which could be analyzed to help better understand geophysical processes here on earth and other planets.

Information like this from any other life giving planet would be invaluable to pharmaceutical companies, agricultural corporations, research organzations, etc.   Such information could be used to more than pay back the investors in the space colonization effort.  (see my posts on Information commerce – part 2 and Information inter-planetary commerce).  Of course many risks exist for such activities not the least that all would be lost enroute, upon landing or shortly thereafter before any valuable information could be transmitted, information links could be severed for any number of technological reasons, and possibly the chosen planet would be unsuitable for human habitation for any number of reasons.  And yet the potential rewards would be equivalent to having another earth with all its biological treasures available at your fingertips.

Biological replicators

Well a recent Economist special on the third industrial revolution or the digitization of manufacturing just re-started the whole discussion for me.  It seems there is a product called the “Replicator” that performs both additive and subtractive manufacturing but also provides detail scanning of any part.  Such that, at one location a Replicator could scan a part and then ship this detailed information to another Replicator, around the other side of the world, or across space to another planet for that matter using that information to re-create the part.

It’s too much a leap of faith to see that sometime in the future, such a device could work in the biological domain just as easily as it could with mechanical parts.  It might have to be capable of gene sequencing and/or other types of biological assays/scanning. But if it could do this, then life forms on other planets could be scanned, with DNA/RNA/xNA sequences sent elsewhere to even another planet to construct a facsimile of that life form.

Of course having the DNA for an cell, and creating the living/breathing organism or even a working cell are two different things. But it seems to me that having the sequence of xNA, and other epi-genetics of the life form would give some company enough information to recreate a life form from somewhere else in the galaxy.

So rather than shipping goods across the galaxy one would ship replicator information which could then be used to re-create the biological organisms discovered on other planets. When you combine the biological treasures to the geophysical value of another life giving planet you may have enough valuable information to fund these exo-planetary colonization activities as a purely commercial activity.

Information bartering

Such information transactions could conceivably form the backbone of an information barter economy.  Whereby, one planet would barter with another for some useful biological or geophysical information.  Once bartering activity is up between two planets, other forms of information transfer could take place beyond that ultimately providing technological information that could help both societies.

Why it’s even conceivable that two planets who just managed to contact one another but were two far away for any material commerce could start off by providing geophysical information about each others planet to one another. Over time evolving from geophysical, arguably the least valuable, to biological which would be more valuable, to ultimately technological information which would be most valuable.  Establishing trust and reciprocal value from each exo-planetary interchange.

This seems to me to be how exo-planetary commerce could develop, could mature for the benefit of all players.

Of course, the language translation would need to be accomplished but here again starting with geophysical information would provide a sort of baseline or even a “rossetta stone” for exo-planetary language translation which could boot strap the conversation to more esoteric information transfers…


Of course all this information has to be stored someplace…  Comments?

Information commerce – part 2

3d personal printer by juhansonin (cc) (from Flickr)
3d personal printer by juhansonin (cc) (from Flickr)

I wrote a post a while back about how interplanetary commerce could be stimulated through the use of information commerce (see my Information based inter-planetary commerce post).  Last week I saw an article in the Economist magazine that discussed new 3D-printers used to create products with just the design information needed to describe a part or product.  Although this is only one type of information commerce, cultivating such capabilities can be one step to the future information commerce I envisioned.

3D Printers Today

3D printers grew up from the 2D inkjet printers of last century.  It turns out if 2D printers can precisely spray ink on a surface it stands to reason that similar technology could potentially build up a 3D structure one plane at a time.  After each layer is created, a laser, infrared light or some other technique is used to set the material into it’s proper form and then the part is incrementally lowered so that the next layer can be created.

Such devices use a form of additive manufacturing which adds material to the exact design specifications necessary to create one part. In contrast, normal part manufacturing activities such as those using a lathe are subtractive manufacturing activities, i.e., they take a block of material and chip away anything that doesn’t belong in the final part design.

3D printers started out making cheap, short-life plastic parts but recently, using titanium oxide powders, have been used to create extremely long lived, metal aircraft parts and nowadays can create any short- or long-lived plastic part imaginable.  A few limitations persist, namely, the size of the printer determines the size of the part or product and 3D printers that can create multi-material parts are fairly limited.

Another problem is the economics of 3D printing of parts, both in time and cost.  Volume production, using subtractive manufacturing of parts is probably still a viable alternative, i.e., if you need to manufacture 1000 or more of the same part, it probably still makes sense to use standard manufacturing techniques.   However, the boundary as to where it makes economic sense to 3D print a part or whether to use a lathe to manufacture a part is gradually moving upward.  Moreover, as more multi-material capable 3D printers start coming online, the economics of volume product manufacturing (not just a single part) will cause a sea change in product construction.

Information based, intra-planetary commerce

The Economist article discussed some implications of sophisticated 3D printers available in the near future.  Specifically, with 3D printers coming soon, manufacturing can now be done locally rather than having to ship parts and products from one country to another.  Using 3D printers all one needed to do was to transmit the product design to wherever it needs to be produced and sold.  They believed this would eliminate most cost advantages available today for low-wage countries that manufacturing parts and products.

The other implication that comes with newer 3D printers is that product customization is now much easier to do.  I envision clothing, furnishing, and other goods that can be literally tailor made for an individual with the proper use of design rule checking CAD software together with local, sophisicated 3D printers.  How Joe Consumer, fires up a CAD program and tailors their product is another matter.  But with 3D printers coming online, sophisticated, CAD knowledgeable users could almost do this today.


In the end, the information needed to create a part or a product will be the key intellectual property.  It’s already been happening for years now but the dawn of 3D printers will accelerate this trend even more.

Also, 3D printers will expand information commerce, joining the already present, information activities provided by the finance, research/science, media, and other information purveyors around the planet today.  Anything that makes information more a part of everyday commerce can be beneficial, whenever we ultimately begin to move off this world to the next planet – let alone when I want to move to Tahitti…