Of course, such machines seem very futuristic to lots of people. In TMP, which was written in 1992, the universal fabricator is introduced, but as a 23rd century technology that is used by pioneers settling the Asteroid Belt. Gershenfeld shocked the world by building fab labs at MIT and around the world. Now, it seemed closer than ever. But it still seemed at least a decade off. But suddenly, in late 2006, the first fabber targeted for home use appeared. Introducing Fab@Home. On that website are the instructions for building your own fabber. In historic time, this is equivalent to the release of the first personal computers in the 1970s and the release of open source Unix clones in the 1990s. From here and on, we should expect fabbers and the products created by fabbers to continuously improve.
We can very well have very powerful fabbers by midcentury. Fabbers will change civilization at the fundamental level by fomenting an industrial revolution on a higher level and scale than the original one. As Eric Hunting writes in [his] Millennial Project (pdf):, the technological changes over the past 50 years are leading to...
"...the cultivation of an independent industrial infrastructure rooted in a post-industrial culture. Savage believed that slow progress in space development was predominately a cultural problem and, though he didn't seem to have theword for it at the time, his solution to this problem was the cultivation of a post-industrial culture whose resource efficiency and obsolescence of unnecessary consumer products would allow for a more focussed use of resources and man-power toward the goal of space.We can start building this sort of society today.
What is this post-industrial culture? Authors such as Alvin Toffler and the anonymous Swiss writer P.M. have detailed this extensively but, to sum it up in a simple way, the post-industrial culture is a producer culture rather than a consumer culture. It's a culture where standard of living is defined by what one can make rather than by what one can buy and thus it creates a 'work-less' society where most people make most of what they need for themselves and thus recover great amounts of time previously squandered at a deep discount for cash with which to pursue their personal improvement and loftier community goals. It's neither a non-industrial culture nor a 'back to the earth' culture of primitive subsistence living. It is highly industrial but based on industrial technology moving toward progressive decentralization and personalization of production ultimately culminating in the realization of totally automated, totally personal, and fully on-demand industry at the household scale matched to total recyclability. It is the ultimate throw-away culture and the most resource efficient and environmentally responsible BECAUSE of that. People make what they need on demand, discard it to complete recycling when they are done with it and thus enjoy a very high standard of living based on the minimum volume of material. A standard of living limited by imagination rather than economics. Products and the materials they are made from have little to no intrinsic value. Only the information from which they are made and the information their design communicates have value. This is a culture often hinted at in discussions of nanotechnology and the Diamond Age but it is not contingent upon that technology."