Manufacturing efficiency is skyrocketing. Every improvement in materials and computing has a multiplicitive effect on manufacturing as every step in the process can see an improvements and there are usually MANY steps. Other steps can be combine or eliminated entirely. An increase in efficiency results in an increase in quality or a decrease in cost, you end up with more of the population being able to afford better and better products; raising the standards of living for everyone.
The cellphone is am excellent example of increasing efficiency in manufacturing. When it started, people could yell to one another, if you were particularly boisterous, you could communicate a hundred yards at best, but quality decreased significantly over a distance. Somewhere along the line someone discovered/invented fire signals and networks of runners, writing was a huge improvement on this system. A few hundred years ago electricity was harnessed and the telegraph followed shortly. The telephone was invented, and you could talk to anyone with a copper wire running to their house, and copper wasn’t cheap, but the system improved for decades and is still used today. Radio was invented, combine with the telephone and vuala, if you wanted to carry around a brief case of electronics you could talk to anyone while within a few miles of the cell tower. The Internet came along, to prevent the United States from loosing communication in the event of a nuclear attack, but then the nerds in universities got a hold of it. Meanwhile, the cellphone could now fit in your hand… Or on a fugly holster on your belt, and it was cheaper. Then smaller and cheaper. Then smaller and cheaper. In the late 90s the average American could afford a cellphone and you could almost swallow one… If you really wanted too… Say you were a spy and it contained secret documents… Anyways, around this time cellphones were connected to the Internet and got a feature of digital cameras. A few years later, Apple upturned the tech world by releasing a cellphone that was little more than a smallish-large screen, not even a keyboard, but it did have multi-touch! The next year they released the app store allowing other developers to make programs to run on it, not only could a critical mass of the public afford an oxymoronically named smartphone, but most would actually want one (there were actually many before, though many forget). Since then smartphones have gotten better and cheaper. The side effect of Western gluttony of pocket sized connectivity and computing is that many people in 3rd world countries can afford a cellphone. Sure they’re much like the old bricks of a decade ago, any self respecting western teenager would scoff at you if you bought them one for Christmas, but with these ridiculously cheap devices many people all over the world who would never had access to modern convenience or the wealth of education available on the Internet make electronic transactions, surf the Internet, and study for school… See the good your greed is doing? Smartphones are now whittling their way into these poverty stricken economies where kids can study on khanacademy.com and learn calculus without all the overhead of Western public education.
The point of that overly long paragraph? The smartphone that is lifting the world out of poverty was made possible by increases in efficiency of manufacturing, driven by the greed of western society and evil/capitalist business geniuses. It’s easy to forget, living in the relative comfort of 40 hour work weeks under the floundering economy of the richest countries in the world. The protection of a law a democratic-republic can provide, but people didn’t always have smartphones, some still don’t have food or water, so we’ve still got a ways to go. What’s the next steps in manufacturing?
One of the next big steps is 3d printing, additive manufacturing, taking a raw material and turning it into a product in a factory that will fit on a desk. You could think of the first 3D printers as just regular paper printers, an art originally called desktop publishing. It’s easy to poo-poo 3D printing comparing it to desktop publishing because after the boom of home paper printers people just started taking their print jobs to Kinkos to have things printed, this is already happening with 3D printing. There are dozens of websites where you can upload a design and get your product in a week. The reason this won’t be the future, but it is the now, are because of poor ease-of-use and monofunction. The best 3D printers only print in a few different kinds of plastic, usually just for printing in a few colors. The number of things a person can print is quite limited to mechanical function and good metal printers are hundreds of thousands of of dollars as of 2016, but they will get cheaper.
Future 3D printers will print electronics, combining hundreds, perhaps millions, of materials through very complicated on the fly chemistry. Of course, especially at first, these electronics won’t be able to print a cellphone as good as the one you have in your pocket, but it will be able to print a TV remote, a car part, maybe even a battery. Right now you can print a cellphone cover, a hinge for your cupboard or a specialized volume control knob for your stereo, so you can crank it to 11.
Another area of 3D printing is organs. I don’t know the common term for this, but there is a guy who’s been walking around for over a decade with a 3D printed liver (or kidney, whichever is simpler, I forget, look it up, there’s a TED Talk on it.) For now I’m going to call it bio-3D printing. Not only will this completely eliminate the necessity of harvesting organs and waiting on a list hoping you strike the lottery, eventually you’ll be able to 3D print an organ with your own DNA or an entire artificial organism. You know in movies when they “clone” a person and it comes out as a fully formed adult? This kind of sci-fi bs bugged the crap out of me! Well… THAT will be possible. My estimate? 60 years.
About 30 years ago some smart chap named Chuck invented the first patented 3D printer, of course there were others before that, but Chuck patented his and made a business of it. You could argue 3D printing started much earlier when a certain DaVinci painted layers of resin on top of each other to make a lamp shade, and additive manufacturing has been around in one form or other, I’m wild guessing, since before recorded history.
Then Chucks patent expired and dozens, or maybe even hundreds of bored Makers set to work on developing and sometimes even selling versions of their own. Now for a few hundred dollars, you too can be the proud owner of a finicky, plastic wasting 3D printer. For a few thousand you can get one that prints candy, full color, sandstone, or just works most of the time. For a few hundred thousand you can buy one that will melt titanium dust with a high power laser (sharks sold separately)… No joke, Elon Musk uses them to build his SpaceX Draco thrusters. The pie is high and rising fast, there’s a 3D printer on the International Space Station orbiting earth RIGHT NOW. Peter Diamandis plans to use 3D printers to build robot parts to mine asteroids, FROM the asteroids. Almost any kind of material you can imagine being layered to make something has been done and everything made, cookie dough? Frosting? Cement into houses? Cars? Guns? Yes, yes, yes, yes, it’s all there. Growing and growing cheaper.
You think printing whatever you want sounds like an amazing idea that will fill the landfills with unnecessary crap and failed test prints (they look like the flying spaghetti monster crashed at Roswell)? Additive manufacturing? Imagine subtractive recycling. It just so happens that the type of plastic used in most consumer 3D printers is the same type used in milk jugs. Recycling them is as easy as melting them into a long wire like filament that is used in these printers, and there are projects to do just that trick (turns out it can be a bit finicky). In the future, you won’t have to buy anything, as long as you have some trash to throw in the 3D printer, a la Back to the Future 2 style.
It will become cheaper to have a desktop 3D printer like device that can make anything than to have a dedicated plant and process that will make one thing en mass because the 3D printer will be able to print the recycler and the printer. Anyone with trash consisting of the necessary raw materials will be able to print their own 3D printer that can make anything. You won’t even have to make your own 3D designs or pay someone for them, you’ll just tell your computer (which will be so small it can be in anything, including your head) what you want and the computer will make a better design than anything a human possibly could. “things” will be free.