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Inventing in the 21st century: How today’s tools, networks, and communications are harnessing intellect

What do you picture when you hear the word "inventor"? For me, inventor conjures up images of a windowless room, endless shelves overflowing with mechanical parts, bare light bulbs hanging from the ceiling, failed experiments scattered on the floor, all shrouded in secrecy.  A mad scientist's lab.  A garage.

But today's labs are more likely to be high-tech, well-lit, and computer-based.  MIT's Fablabs, which "provide widespread access to modern means for invention" have things like a computer-controlled lasercutter and a milling machine with micron resolution.  There's even a mobile version.

Meanwhile, information sharing and collaboration are soaring.  Sites like Innocentive connect "seekers" and "solvers." Millions of people are openly sharing their ideas on the web to solve problems. 

What's even more exciting are efforts to harness humanity's intellectual abilities to address our big challenges.  Design for the Other 90% facilitates inventions that address critical needs related to shelter, water, energy, and more.  Intellectual Ventures, with ties to Bill Gates, brings together experts to solve problems, including challenges related to energy and medicine.

For people like me who might have an idea but not much technical skill, there's Quirky, a place where anyone can suggest a product and the online community decides what actually gets made.  There are also companies tapping the general public for the next great product idea.

It turns out that the "lab" of the future might actually be an essentially weightless, placeless forum where people from all around the globe can share ideas.

All of this is, as they've branded it at MIT, is fabulous.  I'm not talking about the high-tech nature of what's happening, but the implications of harnessing more intellect to solve problems.

Intellect is at the root of all wealth creation.  We often focus on physical resources and tools as the key to our wealth, but it's intellect - problem-solving, mind power, innovation, design - that drives wealth.  The more mind power focused on inventing, the more likely we are to be successful.

What we're seeing now is a fundamental change in how we harness intellect.  In the last decade, people who might have never had access to the tools and information they needed to create a new design are suddenly able to invent.  There's an environment where more and more people can participate, where more and more intellect is invested in and applied to solving problems, and where information is shared faster and more broadly than ever before.

Intellect is the key to being able to create much more wealth with many fewer material resources.  That's why the dMass definition emphasizes leveraging intellect - it's the one limitless resource we have.

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