Killer robots and printing houses

4 October 2012

by Peter Owen

2012 intern


Technology bewilders us all at times. Ben Hammersley, editor of tech magazine Wired and the Prime Minister's ambassador to Tech City, left his audience with a few more questions than answers.


Ben enthusiastically attempted to make such complex and confusing gadgets sound understandable to a mixed crowd of tech-junkies and people who simply wanted to know more about how their emails end up on their computer.


Ben represents the next generation of leader. “Our future is in the hands of people who are confused by the present.” He told the crowd. An interesting statement. Ben believes that if David Cameron were to read his book, we'd all have an easier time living our lives.


The venue was repeatedly stunned by each new technology Ben introduced to us, from super-high speed internet to 3D printers. One of the most intriguing and comical things were the 'fake towns' currently appearing in China.


After talking about the booming Shanzhai industry in the Far East (literally an industry that peddles fake stuff), Ben remembered a story he was told about the Chinese “stealing” towns from around the world. One of them, Britain-town, 'has a chip shop from Weston-super-Mare. Engineers took a 3D scanner and literally scanned the building and built it in China. The engineers got even more ambitious and stole an entire town from Austria.


'The engineers used 3D-scanners on everything. Every building, every street. They went back home and built it. It's a perfect copy but inside everything's Chinese and doesn't work. For all you know there could be a Wigtown 2.0 in the middle of China.'


The term '3D' was a theme for most of the talk. 3D printers are, you see, Ben's favourite new technology. 'You all know printers. They print in 2D, that's it. These 3D printers print things.' With his audience captivated, he elaborated that these printers can print out a glass. 'That whisky glass you really liked at the restaurant? Take some pictures of it, send it to a 3D-printing company and five days later you'll get a perfect copy of the glass in the post.'


It's quite scary, the thought of being able to take pictures of an item and be able to go straight home and print an exact replica.


It's not stopping at glasses and other small items, though. 3D-printing is much bigger. There are now 3D printers capable of printing entire houses. That's correct, a giant printer that prints a home. 'You'd dig your foundations then bring in this big crane-like machine with a robot arm and a nozzle on the end. Then you'd pour in the cement and it'd squirt it out and build a house like putting icing on a cake.'


Ben thinks that we'll all have access to this technology in a few years. You can now buy a machine for just £500. 'Whether you have one in each town or one in your basement, we'll all get to use on.'


He finished his talk with a story about the new headquarters of the company that build these printers, Maker. The owner of the office building where the company's headquarters is located apparently included a clause in the lease that bans them 'from making any killer robots that might take over the world' alongside a copy of Isaac Asimov's famous Three Laws of Robotics.


Ben's new book 64 things you need to know Now for Then tackles these crazy ideas and many more and is well worth a read for even the most tech-savvy reader.


Book Festival sponsor the The Telegraph's arts and culture writer Daisy Bowie-Sell has been in town for the past few days, you can find her daily reviews and much more over on the Telegraph's dedicated Wigtown Book Festival area.