Homo Evolutis


At the end of last year, I had the enormous opportunity to participate in the first executive program of Singularity University outside its campus at NASA. Singularity is an interdisciplinary university, whose mission is to educate and inspire leaders and investors about the evolution of technologies to solve today’s and tomorrow’s biggest challenges. It was founded by futurist/inventor Ray Kurzweil and physician/entrepreneur Peter Diamandis in 2008, with the support of companies like Google, NASA, and Autodesk.

The undergraduate course at Singularity takes place at the NASA Ames campus in Silicon Valley and lasts 10 months. During the period, a faculty composed of engineers, technologists, futurists, doctors, and astronauts teach about exponential technologies, robotics, nanotechnology, biotechnology, medicine, computer networks, and so on. The executive program, which they conduct outside the campus, like the one that happened in São Paulo, covers the same subjects but in a more superficial and specific manner. But it gave a little taste of what is to come, and if I were to write a post about absolutely everything, it would be the longest post in the history of the internet. Therefore, if you are interested in technology and futurism, I suggest you visit the Singularity YouTube channel and take a hefty but chewed dose of the kind of content taught at the university.

3D printing

One of the topics that always resurfaced in the program’s lectures was 3D printing. The technology is not new, having existed for over 30 years, but until now, 3D printers have been extremely expensive to have any significant impact on the market. But the big deal is that today we are at the “knee” of the exponential advancement curve of 3D printers, which means that the cost falls and our access to this technology increases exponentially. And it may seem like just another rising technology, just as woodblock printing came at the beginning of the last millennium, but the consequent applications of one more dimension in printing are much broader…

Basically, a 3D printer does what a conventional one does, but instead of receiving a flat art and depositing ink on a single surface, it receives information from a sliced 3D model, and goes depositing various types of materials in layers, gradually revealing the model in the third dimension. This is just one of several 3D printing methods.

In the hall of FIAP, where the executive program took place, students from the college themselves had set up a Cupcake CNC printer from Makerbot, demonstrating how its process works:

The Cupcake is one of the various models from Makerbot. It prints parts up to 10 x 10 x 13cm, and the complete kit to assemble one costs $900.

Since this construction is done by layers, depending on the printer’s precision and the material used, it is already possible to print a machine with functional gears, ready to spring into action. Hence comes an interesting concept that 3D printers can produce their own parts, and therefore, reproduce themselves as living beings do. And this is not far from our reach.


The RepRap printer was developed around this idea of reproduction. A RepRap today is capable of printing about 65% of the parts needed to manufacture another one like it. At the same time, the following versions of the printer are manufactured by the previous one, mimicking the phenomenon of evolution. It’s biomimicry helping to inspire the future of technology. The Mendel model is the fourth generation of RepRap, and the parts needed to assemble it are costing around $520.

The project began at the University of Bath, England, but is completely open-source, allowing engineers and designers from all over the world to collaborate to create the next versions of RepRap. Versions that will start printing in ever more different materials, leading us to the situation where owning a product will mean downloading its file from the internet and printing it at home, just as we already do with music and movies. This means less impact generated in transportation and storage, and products with high potential for customization. Creator Adrian Bowyer explains better:

These printers accessible to mere mortals today are still rudimentary in terms of precision and variety of materials, but all this is not expected to evolve only in the distant future. Home production is a reality whose numbers leave no room for doubt, and only suggest that your child will be printing their own cellphone at home, with the functionalities they choose. A bit like the Replicator, from Star Trek.

If you don’t want to go DIY, and assemble your own printer, you won’t be left out of the accessible 3D printing wave. Shapeways is a company that receives your 3D model, prints it in various materials (including metals and rubber), sends it to you by mail, and even allows you to sell it in their virtual store of printed products.

Shapeways sample pack

Designer Jeff Bare barely bought his iPad and already designed a rubber protector, printed by Shapeways and sold for $30. In a few days, he did what he knew how to do and was empowered to produce his project with industrial precision under a more profitable business model that generates less impact.

But new methods of producing jewelry, toys, and iPad accessories are not going to change the world. And how about printing a house? That’s what Enrico Dini of D-Shape imagines with his giant printer. Currently capable of printing forms about 5x5x5m, D-Shape’s printer deposits sand mixed with a paste that hardens the structure and produces complex constructions for a fraction of the price and waste of a conventional method.

D-Shape printed structure

Now imagine this technology arriving in developing countries, or in areas recently hit by disasters, that need cheap, instant, and durable shelters…

And the possibilities don’t stop there. We’ve already mixed 3D printing with architecture. Now let’s mix 3D printing with biomedicine.


Starting with regenerative medicine, today it’s normal to be able to take the cartilage of a heart, spray stem cells on it, they self-organize around it and the heart starts to beat. Imagine being able to print these tissues on demand, with cells reproduced from your own body. That’s what the Bioprinter from Organovo allows to do. It’s possible to feed the printer with liver cells, to be deposited on a structure generated on the computer, and that later will be a complete organ to be called nothing less than yours.

Taking it further, imagine being able to print artificial DNA, to create any type of biological tissue. The result will end up being a brain with intelligence and memory ready, straight out of the oven. Or, with a bit of nanoengineering, we might fabricate superior beings… Like what Hollywood has already done:

And where are we going with this crazy talk? I don’t know, but the consequences that will come are also in our hands.

According to futurist Juan Enriquez the technology that today seems like science fiction will be normal for our children. And our children’s children will be witnessing a complete reboot: a new human species, which he calls Homo Evolutis</em>_.

Homo Evolutis is the one who naturally evolved to a state that made him capable of producing the technological tools that allow him to control his own evolution, and that of the creatures around him.


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