Makers, Inventors or Scientists (AT546E)

We are experiencing a strong transition in the way of life for people all over the world, accelerated by the pandemic that is plaguing us at the time of writing this article. There will be a disruption, in which our old customs will be totally forgotten, and we will move on to a new era in which customs will be different. In this article, we focus on what, in our view, this will mean for science and technology.

In the past, at the beginning of the 20th century, and even a little earlier, it was common for ordinary people or even scientists to set up research laboratories in their homes, garages or in a shed nearby. From the work of these people, called inventors, many discoveries and innovations emerged. The science and technology of the time allowed people to have at their reach the basic tools to discover, create, develop, or even industrialize something new. Many of the scientific innovations which were later used in technological innovations came from the hands of these people, who we can classify nowadays into three categories.

The makers of the time, or the followers of DiY (Do it Yourself), who assembled from known things using technology for their own use or even for selling. At that time, it was common for people to buy radio kits and amplifiers to assemble and sell to acquaintances. Many repair technicians made money this way. They took advantage of their ability to assemble to sell a product purchased in a kit, which in stores would cost more.

The inventors, who were those who based mainly on technical knowledge and a little less on scientific knowledge, wanted to create something totally new. Discovering mechanical configurations, chemicals, medicines, and more that could make them rich, or revolutionize the world. At their laboratories, they tried to “invent” an engine that didn’t need fuel (perpetual motorcycle), transmit energy through space (Tesla), create a syrup for everything, and there were cases where they didn’t work very well, but others that worked out like Thomas Edison who gave the world a multitude of inventions. Note that these inventors, for the most part, were people who had much more skills than scientific knowledge, often failing to interpret well-established scientific principles.

The third category was that of true scientists. At that time, it was enough to have a little money to set up a chemistry or even biology laboratory at home with all the resources available then. The discoveries could be made if the person responsible had a good scientific background. And this way, there were many who did well, discovering new things, new principles that could be used by medicine, biology, etc.

Over time, the do-it-yourself, maker and inventors, category began to decline. That of scientists has undergone a transformation, moving into the laboratories of large companies, research centers and universities. A scientist should have a very solid background in his/her field, having a doctorate from a renowned institution and working according to very well-established standards so that his/her work could be recognized and used.

This separation is now leading to a transformation that can cause these categories to change places and approaches again. We can take computer science as an example. The computer scientists work in a virtual universe where the entrance can be at their home. Thus, their computer is their laboratory and being anywhere in the world it can access everything in the world. The only tools besides the computer are their brains. This concept is passing on to other categories of innovators: makers, inventors, and scientists.

Makers who previously needed to have a well-equipped workshop with resources to cut, bend, weld and more, with large and expensive tools, can now work on their desk developing and evaluating boards, ordering their products, buying over the internet, and having them manufactured anywhere in the world, offering it for sale worldwide through online stores.

Inventors have powerful resources to create totally new things, from product development never imagined before, based on existing things like resources to create components and parts which do not exist yet. The lab can be brought to an apartment or house.

Finally, scientists, in addition to resources for carrying out experiments, also have virtual simulation tools which allow them to visualize a process that takes place over a very long period of time, in a few minutes. However, scientific training is still necessary and other disruption that occurs in this field is the arrival of the distance learning. You can take a course in electronics, physics, biology, chemistry, mathematics without leaving your home and if you are fluent in English, even in other countries. Institutions like MIT offer courses in quantum physics for those who can pay and follow up, and in some cases even free courses.

It is a new world in which anyone can do anything and without the need of high investments, leaving home or having support that depends on people and institutions that are not always willing to help you. Think about it and embrace yourselves for a new era.