3D printing could offer an ever bigger threat to our way of life than any homemade gun could ever achieve.
It's easy at first to see why an undetectable, untraceable, homemade weapon could be a threat to society. The possibility of these weapons being used to harm others through terrorism, accident or just outright stupidity is a very real one. But the recently released ‘Liberator' 3D printed gun is not the super weapon its media hype has made it out to be. Its crude design does in fact require a metal component (firing pin) in order to work, not to mention the metal bullet needed to be fired. Its core construction is made from ABS plastic (think lego) and if you successfully manage to fire your first shot, the heat and pressure generated inside the plastic gun's barrel will pretty much destroy it. Hardly the biggest threat, given what can easily be bought from one of thousands of stores in the USA today.
The biggest threat to come from 3D printing.
The real threat posed to our way of life by 3D printing is an economic one.
What 3D printing promises for the future is the removal of humans completely from the manufacturing, distributing and even retailing of all physical goods and products. Imagine all the people currently employed in any production and supply chain. Factories full of machinists and product assemblers, packaging designers and makers, shipping and storage companies full of workers, retailers and delivery companies – these all become surplus for requirements to develop, sell and distribute products. The real threat from 3D printers is unemployment.
Will companies really choose to turn their staff away in favor of home manufacturing? The once controversial issue of outsourcing manufacturing to countries with lower rates of pay is now common practice for almost all major brands. In business, one thing is for sure: if it can be done cheaper, it will be done cheaper. Even without 3D printers, the rate in which new technology makes old jobs obsolete is far outweighing the rate of new jobs these emerging technologies create. I'm not alone in seeing new technology as a threat to jobs, it's an opinion shared by MIT professor and co-author of Race Against the Machine, Erik Brynjolfsson. In his book, he explains how more and more technologies of all kinds, from 3D printers to internet shopping, are removing more human driven jobs than they create.
Time for change.
Now you may think it's strange for me to tell you 3D printers could threaten your way of life (especially since this website is almost entirely based around acquiring and using them), but whether or not that threat becomes a negative for you depends on your response to it. Industry has changed over the past 10 years, more so than many realize. Companies that were built on long histories and solid reputations have disappeared from our stores and malls, with new multi-billion dollar companies emerging almost overnight. The success and failure of any business has never before been so dependent on its ability to predict and adapt to change as it does right now.
A new economy.
In a future where physical products are made at home ‘on demand', the key to employment may be your ability to be employed handling or creating data. Already the value of creating and managing data is huge business. Anyone in any doubt of this need look at the phenomenal success of companies like Google, Facebook, or even Apple, whose profits are now largely fueled by digital products, like movies and mp3s from iTunes, and mobile and desktop applications in their ‘App Store'.
What these and other companies have realized early is the commercial value of data. What has emerged as a result of the success and reach of these companies is a new economy of entrepreneurs also seeing (and utilizing) the potential of data as a commodity. All over the world individuals and companies are working online as writers, programmers, app designers, bloggers, on demand store owners and social media managers, to name a few. New technologies like 3D printing (as well as established ones like the internet) are democratizing information and the ability to compete on a global scale.
Could this really happen?
With an increasing range of products already available and new developments in the types of materials that can be used for printing, it's only a matter of time before the technology meets the needs of the average consumer. This may seem like a slightly ‘out there' idea, but imagine telling the first computer programmers, who hand-coded for hours just to make lights blink in sequence, that within 30 years that same technology would allow you to hold your entire music and movie collection in your pocket and make video calls to the other side of the world. With the past developments of technology enabling future developments and ideas to spread even faster than before, it's not a huge leap from 3D printing plastic to 3D printing metal, to 3D printing everything at home.