[p2p-research] replab and replication

Michel Bauwens michelsub2004 at gmail.com
Tue Nov 24 14:10:18 CET 2009

Hi Kevin,

I'm looking for someone to explain the importance of the replab initiative
to our audience? would you have some time?


Sam Putman: [1] <http://mnemnion.wordpress.com/2009/11/22/on-replication/>

*On Replication*

"There is a growing interest in self-replicating machines. Beginning with
the RepRap project, and now continuing into RepLab, the open source FabLab,
there is a serious effort to build machines which can build themselves.

It is a laudable goal. A machine which can make itself can also make an
unimaginable variety of other machines, each unique if desired, and promises
an era of material abundance and freedom from scarcity. Pursuing that goal,
however, has shown the goal itself to be somewhat unclear. This is an
attempt to remedy this situation.

What is replication? The production of a replica, but what is a replica? The
original meaning was that of a duplicate of a work of art, properly one
produced by the original artist.

I propose we define replication precisely, as the transcription of a
template into a physical form. This definition is perhaps more general than
we are used to, but I believe it accurately captures the use of the word.

Let’s take the test case: an artist producing a replica of her own painting.
The original painting may have taken many months, while the replica may take
only a day or two at most. The artist is using tools, a brush and palette,
and materials, canvas and paint, to make a copy of a template, the original

How about DNA self-replication? We have a toolchain of proteins, from DNA
Transcriptase on, which transcribe a template, the DNA, into a copy of
itself, using materials (ATP, other nucleic acids, caffeine if there’s some
in the organism in question) both extrinsic to the cell and fabricated
within it.

Note that in the first case the template resembles the result, while in
second case, if we consider the result a new cell rather than new DNA, the
result doesn’t resemble the template at all. This is immaterial to the act
of replication; a high-resolution inkjet printer and a scanner could
replicate the artist’s original work, faster and more accurately than she
could, and in this case the template would be stored as bits within a

The rest of this discussion will focus on replication in the context of
human-tool interaction.

This means replication of an object, from a template, through the combined
efforts of at least one human with at least one tool. We call this a ‘tool’
rather than a ‘machine’ for greater generality.

The earliest form of replication was a human using a tool to make a copy of
an object. Our paradigm case for this is a scribe copying a scroll. A human
can’t do this without the materials (paper, ink) and tools (quill,
sharpener) required for the act. With those tools, a human can copy a scroll
in a certain amount of time.

A few observations here: the tool enables, the human works. A faster tool,
let us say a pen rather than a chisel on stone, allows for faster work, but
more copies will always take more human time. We will call this Type 1
replication. It is characterized by modest gains in efficiency for mass
production and poor scaling characteristics.

A second form of replication came about when humans began using tools to
automate aspects of production. By investing time in setup, many copies can
be replicated much faster. The work is still done by humans, with tools; but
by doing the work intelligently, many copies can be made with comparatively
low effort. We call this Type 2 replication.

The paradigm case for Type 2 is the printing press. By investing
considerable effort in building a press, casting type, and laying out a
document, one is rewarded by the ability to print as many copies as one
wants, with speed and reliability which increase over time. Type 2
replication has good scaling characteristics and rewards mass production. It
is characteristic of the Industrial Age.

Type 2 production next evolved in two directions the first of which we’ll
call Type 2a: significant setup time followed by fully automated production.
Newspaper presses work in this fashion, although the most recent ones are
Type 3. Type 2a has significantly better scaling characteristics than Type
2, and mostly displaces it when developed.

Type 2b replication is where there is significant tool investment, but
negligible setup time and non-automatic production. The matching paradigm
for this is a Xerox machine, though like newspaper presses these have become
increasingly Type 3 over time. An early Xerox would make a copy of anything
that fit on the glass, or even a hundred copies, but a human had to stand
around feeding it sheets and doing things like collation by hand. This has
poor scaling qualities, being labor intensive, but it favors customization
over mass production.

Type 3 replication has negligible setup times and fully automatic
production. Our paradigm case here is a laser printer. Even a desktop laser
printer can print replicas of stored data, each different, for many hours
without needing attention. The factory scale printers can make entire books
without human intervention. Type 3 replication is characteristic of the
Information Age, or Industrial Revolution 2.0.

Type 3 has good scaling characteristics and rewards customization over mass
production. One can make an arbitrarily large number of copies off any given
template, but there’s little to no advantage over using many different

Many FabLab technologies, such as laser cutters, hobby-scale 3d printers,
and CNC mills, are Type 2b. What’s interesting about 2b replication is that
it’s often a small step away from being Type 3, needing only, for example, a
small conveyor belt. I hope that by drawing attention to the radical
difference in scaling quality between Type 2b replication and Type 3
replication, I can encourage open-source hardware developers to strive for
Type 3 tools whenever possible.

A Type 2b tool is a creative enabler, while a Type 3 tool is both a creative
enabler and an economically disruptive force, because it can compete
effectively with 2a mass-production technologies. It also frees human labor
for other pursuits, which is an important goal for many.

So this is replication; what of self-replication? This is the second concept
I hope to make clear with this essay. Self-replication is not different from
replication, except that, in the context of human-tool interaction, that
which is being replicated is a part of the tool itself. I refer to this as
recursion, because that’s what it is.

Note that there are several Type 1 replicators with a high degree of
possible recursion. The lathe is a classic example: one can hand-turn many
of the components for a lathe on itself, and even bootstrap a lathe by
building the spindle and using it to make other components. A kiln is
another example, since a kiln can be used to fire refractory bricks to make
another kiln. In fact I might argue that a kiln exhibits the highest
recursion of any Type 1 replicator, in that a kiln can be nothing but
stacked bricks and a fire, and the bricks can all come from a kiln.

Note, however, that this still has poor scaling qualities, though it favors
custom production. The Dave Gingery approach of contributing massive human
inputs to a bootstrapped machine shop is noble, but it will never be an
economic force. It is simply too easy to identify the main shapes needed,
turn them over to Type 2 or 2a production, and swamp the market.

The RepRap project faces exactly this dilemma. RepRap knocked the bottom out
of 3-d printing, but it did this mostly by making the MakerBot possible. The
RepRap is a 2b replicator, which requires human tending during the entirety
of the recursion process. This makes it easier and cheaper to simply make a
chassis on a faster 2b tool, namely an Epilog laser cutter that NYC Resistor
happens to already own, and sell that. If the RepRap were a Type 3, with an
automatic conveyor, it might be a different story, since a RepRap could then
print its chassis parts at a rate of a few complete sets a week with minimal
human inputs. For that matter, a MakerBot with a conveyor belt would be a
Type 3 replicator, albiet one exhibiting less recursion than a Darwin or a

Let me conclude by suggesting that the RepLab project needs to place
priority on Type 3 replication, not on a maximum level of recursion for the
whole system. Recursion, I think I’ve shown, is no great trick if it takes a
human hand-holding the machine through the whole process, since this is how
machine tools have always been built, on other machine tools.

The power of Industrial Revolution 2.0 lies in developing machines which
exhibit Type 3 replication. If the outputs of those machines are
sufficiently general than the toolset as a suite can exhibit economically
significant recursion. An example would be an open-source toolchain for
automated printing and assembly of PCB boards. Such a suite would be able to
print its own control hardware in addition to any other circuit that can be
designed and mounted with a pick-and-place, which is most of them.

The RepLab project should focus on tools exhibiting Type 3 replication for a
variety of economically significant goods. Recursion is an emergent result
which can lend exponential momentum to the deployment of RepLab technology.
By approaching the project goals in this order, we have a rational approach
to an open source hardware platform for Industrial Revolution 2.0."

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: <openmanufacturing at googlegroups.com>
Date: Mon, Nov 23, 2009 at 6:39 PM
Subject: [Open Manufacturing] Digest for
openmanufacturing at googlegroups.com- 8 Messages in 5 Topics
To: Digest Recipients
<openmanufacturing+digest at googlegroups.com<openmanufacturing%2Bdigest at googlegroups.com>

  Today's Topic Summary

Group: http://groups.google.com/group/openmanufacturing/topics

   - Another must-see lecture about Synbio: "Where computation and
   fabrication meet"<http://mail.google.com/mail/?ui=2&view=js&name=js&ver=ZZ4KpTfy1bY.en.&am=!Iec9iPCj39i5BXHC0fIucsP8-ca4xltahQtEtWFE2NP-hA#12520d6c914ead66_group_thread_0>[1
   - FabLab inventory and
   - Openluna.org<http://mail.google.com/mail/?ui=2&view=js&name=js&ver=ZZ4KpTfy1bY.en.&am=!Iec9iPCj39i5BXHC0fIucsP8-ca4xltahQtEtWFE2NP-hA#12520d6c914ead66_group_thread_2>[1
   - On Replication<http://mail.google.com/mail/?ui=2&view=js&name=js&ver=ZZ4KpTfy1bY.en.&am=!Iec9iPCj39i5BXHC0fIucsP8-ca4xltahQtEtWFE2NP-hA#12520d6c914ead66_group_thread_3>[2
   - HomeRgent<http://mail.google.com/mail/?ui=2&view=js&name=js&ver=ZZ4KpTfy1bY.en.&am=!Iec9iPCj39i5BXHC0fIucsP8-ca4xltahQtEtWFE2NP-hA#12520d6c914ead66_group_thread_4>[3

 Topic: Another must-see lecture about Synbio: "Where computation and
fabrication meet"<http://groups.google.com/group/openmanufacturing/t/f15358f0defabffb>

   Bryan Bishop <kanzure at gmail.com> Nov 22 10:41PM -0600

   ---------- Forwarded message ----------
   From: JonathanCline <jncline at gmail.com>
   Date: Sun, Nov 22, 2009 at 10:36 PM
   Subject: Another must-see lecture about Synbio: "Where computation and
   fabrication meet"
   To: DIYbio <diybio at googlegroups.com>
   Cc: jcline at ieee.org

   Where computation and fabrication meet: using computers to mimic
   biology. Zack Booth Simpson  http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/2385012

   "a talk for a conference of science writers"

   This one is definitely going in the FAQ.  It includes an explanation
   of biobrick-debunking and a "true" bio-engineered inverter from syn
   bio elements.

   ## Jonathan Cline
   ## jcline at ieee.org
   ## Mobile: +1-805-617-0223


   You received this message because you are subscribed to the Google
   Groups "DIYbio" group.
   To post to this group, send email to diybio at googlegroups.com.
   To unsubscribe from this group, send email to
   diybio+unsubscribe at googlegroups.com<diybio%2Bunsubscribe at googlegroups.com>
   For more options, visit this group at

   - Bryan
   1 512 203 0507

 Topic: FabLab inventory and

   Marcin Jakubowski <joseph.dolittle at gmail.com> Nov 22 09:59PM -0600


   I would like to call out further for participation in
   The focus is economic significance, ie, applicability of open source
   to real production functions of society. Sam discussed this point in his
   post, On Replication<

   I am posting this same message to announce at lists.hackerspaces.org and
   discuss at lists.hackerspaces.org . If someone knows more effective means of
   contacting hacklabs, pass this on. We also need to pass this on to the
   FabLab people.
   As such, the discussion on RepLab needs to start with components. We
   these here, and then ask collaborators explicitly what they can
   to the RepLab tool inventory development process. We are looking
   for people who have can research, design, and build equipment. The goal
   producing tools that can lead to disruptive change by combination of open
   source business model and Type 3 replication (see above article). We
   be clear that the development has openness as a priority - including the
   enterprise model for building respective machines. The enterprise model
   include economic analysis and ergonomic analysis for the RepLab tool, to
   promote economically significant production of that tool or of its
   This is in the name of distributive economics - and to spawn a large
   of production facilities worlwide that rely on open source tooling. This
   a means to address bootstrap funding towards post-scarcity economics for
   many of the groups involved - by earnings from viable, open business

   It should be said that the common ground between RepLab development and
   toolchain application towards economically significant production (such
   automated circuit fabrication proposed by Sam) is the development of the
   toolchain components. This means that if we want to develop toolchains -
   need tool chain components - and that's where the core mission of RepLab
   lies. We are hoping that a large pool of developers from many
   hackerspace-related initiatives come together on developing the various
   Source Fab Lab tools, since all of us are interested in at least some
   of production.

   Sam proposes automated circuit fab as one viable enterprise. Erik brings
   RepRap developments to the table, and I hope that this becomes a viable
   business model, possibly co-developed with Makerbot. FeF brings
   RepTab<http://openfarmtech.org/index.php?title=RepTab>to the table -
   we have an untested prototype so far, and we welcome on-site

   The list of tools needed is below, with only the key items listed. Please
   get back to us specifically on what you can contribute. In particular:

   (1), tell us the tool of interest to you;
   (2), what specific technical developments you are willling to contribute
   the project - such as design, calculations, research, fabrication,
   documentation, web development, marketing, resource development, parts
   sourcing assistance, etc.
   (3), resources and infrastructure that you have available, and what
   you are involved with or that you can leverage for assistance
   (4), suggestions on strategies and enterprise models that can be utilized
   (5), suggestions on tools missing, and how you're willing to contribute
   devloping them
   (6), how much energy you can commit - do you 'have a job' or can you
   significant time?

   TOOL LIST - from FabLab (see detailedhis for a
   1. Laser cutter - large DIY community exists for C02 lasers
   2. ShopBot - RepTab is the Factor e Farm version
   3. Precise router for milling circuits
   4. Plasma cutter - power circuit is main point to opensource
   5. Welder - power circuit is main point to opensource
   6. Oscilloscope - can a computer oscilloscope cover most needs?

   Beyond FabLab:
   1. RepRap - fabrication streamlining and open business model needed
   2. Mill
   3. Drill
   4. Lathe
   5. Induction furnace - power electronics are main point to opensource
   6. Ciruit fab - automated process including pick-and-place
   7. Aluminum extrusion
   8. Metal casting - of ingot from induction furnace, and other molds
   9. Hot rolling
   10. Cold rolling
   11. Forging
   12. Metal shear and hole punch for up to 1" steel
   13. Wire drawing

   These tools cover electronics, precision fabrication, heavy metal work,
   ability to make other tools for producing any technology known in
   civilization. Tools created from the above can even yield clean room
   technology. The above is quiate a limited set, but is sufficient to
   other tools. The latter parts focus on serious industrial process, with a
   bias towards building replicable, post-scarcity resilient communities
   capacity to bootstrap largerly from scrap steel.

   Comments and refinements of problem statement are welcome.


   marcin at replab.org

   Marcin Jakubowski, Ph.D.
   Open Source Ecology
   opensourceecology at gmail dot com
   Skype: marcin_ose

   Nobody said that building the world's first open source village would be

   -- Anonymous, 2009

   A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion,
   butcher a
   hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts,
   a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders,
   act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program
   computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly.
   Specialization is for insects.

   -- Robert A. Heinlein

   NOTICE: All discussion in this communication is in the public domain,
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