The 3-D Printed Future and its Enemies

Peter Frase in Jacobin:

8017415208_b3958ea7ecLately, it seems like everyone is talking about 3-D printers. Until recently, these devices have been seen either as novelties or as expensive pieces of equipment suited only for industrial use. Now, however, they are quickly becoming affordable to individuals, and capable of producing a wider range of practical items. Just as the computer became a vector for pervasive file-sharing as soon as cheap PCs and internet connections were widespread, we may soon find ourselves living in a world where cheap 3-D printers allow the dissemination of designs for physical objects through the Internet.

The line between science fiction and reality is moving rapidly. Scroll throughthese links at BoingBoing and you’ll see 3-D printers churning out everything from guitars to dolls to keys to a prosthetic beak for a bald eagle.

Ensconced in the home, the 3-D printer is a step toward the replicator: a machine that can instantly produce any object with no input of human labor. Technologies like this are central to the vision of a post-scarcity society that I outlined in “Four Futures”. It’s a future that could be glorious or terrible, depending on the outcome of the coming political struggles over the adoption of these new technologies. As the title of a report from Public Knowledge puts it, “It will be awesome if they don’t screw it up.”

Battles over 3-D printing will be fought on two fronts, and two mechanisms of power are likely to be mobilized by the rentier elites who are threatened by these technologies: intellectual property law and the war on terror.

More here. [Thanks to Ahmad Saidullah.]