By Nina Hallas
With its wide boulevards, lantern-style streetlights and heritage-listed architecture, the quaint regional city of Bathurst is renowned for its well-preserved colonial history.
Head down Russell Street and into Gunther’s Lane though, and you’ll see a vision of the future instead.
Opened in October of 2016 as the first of its kind in Australia, Gunther’s Lane is an “experiential technology hub” featuring everything from robotics; to virtual and augmented reality, to the latest in gaming, music and creative software in its inventory, which will radically transform the way we live and work.
Here nothing is for sale, but everything is free to use.
As manager James Colley explains, the hub is a community-centred initiative sponsored by the Reliance Bank, providing interested members of the public – including seniors with a query navigating Facebook- “unbiased advice”, and “accessibility to products or tools that may not necessarily be available” or affordable on the market yet.
While pondering the trajectory of human civilisation, you can grab a coffee- or a soothing cuppa – from the Hole in the Wall Café. You could even use the design software and 3D printer on premises to print out your own mug and muffin too.
Having the ability to produce all different types of objects, in all different types of materials – one day, theoretically including human organs, the 3D printer will revolutionise industry through to healthcare, paralleling, and even exceeding, the societal transformations wrought by industrialisation.
Of course, the 3D printer is still years away from being as commercially available as the standard home office variety, but Gunther’s Lane is steadily paving the way for public consumption.
“We initially started printing off lots of novelty stuff, but people have started coming in with more practical designs. We even had one guy print off some spare parts for his motorbike ” James relayed.
As far as incredible inventions go, the 3D printer has a contender in Gunther’s Lane newest arrival: the Microsoft HoloLens, described by James as “kind of like the Google glasses, but a better-working version, and insane”.
Differing from its Virtual Reality cousin, where users completely submerse themselves in a life-like but alternative visual ‘realities’, the HoloLens is classified as ‘augmented reality’, which superimposes computer-generated images into the existing material surrounds.
With nothing but the clumsy gestures of my fingers groping air, and a lens retailing for a cool $8000 fitted to my head, the world was quite literally in the palm of my hands. I could interactively explore the hologram plains of the galaxy, or the small intricacies of the human anatomy. I could draw on a canvas of open space, and then admire my burgeoning career in the abstract arts in 3D suspension around me.
“My school is actually thinking about buying a few,” a teen boy in uniform tells me nonchalantly, having taken over the HoloLens with an ease that made my own efforts prematurely reminiscent of my dad’s tortured struggles mastering ‘the SMS’.
It was exhilarating, bordering the territory of terrifying, to think of the dizzying pace that technology was developing. Only a short decade ago, the ‘smart phone’ didn’t exist. Just a decade from now, “once things get smaller in scale, and apps and connectivity get better” the sensational technology on offer today will be akin to what the old Nokia brick is to the latest iPhone.
My time at Gunther’s Lane had the distinct feeling of being a notable moment of personal history. I savoured the sensation of experiencing things that promise to become ubiquitous, for the very first time. I had an encounter to tell offspring about, who, no doubt, will be surprised to learn that a time before robots and artificial intelligence- like the internet and television before it- existed at all.
As to what the future has in store for Bathurst, Gunther’s Lane pioneering efforts connecting technology, business and community has some speculators biding the Central West will be the incoming ‘Silicon Valley’ of Australia.
Following a NSW Parliamentary Inquiry in June this year, the state government has announced plans to invest in fostering start-up companies, and technological innovation in regional NSW.
As part of this initiative, a business incubator stationed above the hub, aptly named ‘Upstairs’, was opened to provide high-speed internet, open plan working desks, meeting and storage space, as well as mentoring programs, tutorials and investor opportunities for anyone looking for the means to evolve their start-up pitches.
Meanwhile, as the National Broadband Network rolls in through the area, Bathurst Regional Council is looking to establish free Wifi in the city centre for its residents to enjoy a greater level of connectivity on the go.
“A lot of these ideas were bubbling under the broth, but I suppose Gunther’s Lane helped kick start them into action, now that people see what’s possible”
Some argue the restless march of innovation ticks us a little closer to an event known as the Singularity, where machines become so intelligent, they outsmart and possibly even outrank their human creators.
By most accounts, including those of Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking, the threat is real, but distant. Even though technology is evolving at exponential rate, for now, at least, a cockroach of average intelligence is still smarter than the most sophisticated robot on offer.
The digital age, however, still raises concerns for the immediate future, including the heightened ability for omnipresent government and social surveillance, the loss of jobs through automation, and, as technology and biology further intertwine, the potential threat of body hacking.
While these implications risk being sidelined to the hubris of progress for the sake of progress, in many respects, the biggest danger in technological revolutions lie in knowledge and ownership monopolies.
Gunther’s Lane is an essential safeguard, providing those who don’t necessarily have a metropolitan city address, millions of dollars, or a highly technical degree an avenue to learn, engage and even develop the technology of our Brave New World, and its infinite realm of possibility.