Saturday, March 09, 2013

What I would do with a 3-D printer

Every time I see a piece of furniture or plant or piece of art or food that I like, I would take a 3-D photo of it and then reproduce it in miniature with my 3-D printer. Then I would build a little house and arrange my little stuff in it. (If this caught on, it could become a replacement for acquisitiveness. Especially if we could melt the plastic back down.)

I would also like to use my 3-D printer to make consumer items instead of going to the store. Maybe also parts for my appliances and automobile and so on. For consumer items (for example plates and bowls), I would like to be able to customize the design.

This raises whole new sets of copyright/etc issues. Please, please, please let design be free. If I have a 3-D photo of my favorite Phillip Hoffman chair and I "print" it for my personal use, will I be breaking the law? What about a Calder mobile? A new roof for my Smartcar? A full-size bust of someone living? (I hate this Brave New World where I'm a criminal for possessing digital copies of things, even though I don't make money off of them. It's an affront to personal freedom and democracy.)

Not that I have a 3-D printer... yet. But the price has dropped to $1200 and they seem destined to be household appliances soon. It's pretty cool that we will all have replicators, but unfortunate that they are restricted to replicating plastic. (That reminds me of a bit from Charles Stross' Singularity Sky: an alien race called The Festival disrupts planetary civilizations by giving the people replicators that require no input, but The Festival is like a genie that never gives you quite what you want: one group gets a replicator that makes nothing but plastic cutlery, and the cutlery endlessly gushes out.) Of course one day 3-D printers may move beyond plastic... maybe soon.

Back in the bad old days we used to be restricted to whatever the local retailer wanted to sell us, be it books or music or clothing or whatever. Nowadays I have a far, far wider choice on the internet. But with 3-D printers the choices will expand again: if I want a little clip to attach my orchids to a stem, I will be able to search for exactly the one I want, and possibly also customize it. This seems like a Very Good Thing.

But as the need for local brick-and-mortar retailers diminishes, urban form will change and new business models will need to be developed. Is anyone ready for that?
  • When there are less trucks delivering manufactured goods, we'll need less roads.
  • My town continues to build endless strips of big box stores that all sell the same old sad junk. (If I could print whatever design of ceiling fan I wanted, why would I ever go to Home Depot to buy their tasteless crap?) What will we do with all the space we'll save?
  • Will municipalities have to change the way they collect taxes? Plan downtowns?
  • If I pay import duties on the Italian ceiling fan that I have delivered ready-made, will I pay import duties when I print the same fan?

I'm only ever-so-lightly scratching the surface of change to come.

1 comment:

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