I posted this video here a couple months ago about a project that I’m working on with my partner and one of our students.
Over at immanence Adrian has some good points and questions about our nano 3D printing future.
Tom wants to read the book that will become The Wealth of Nations or Kapital for the new economic system that will result from these technologies. I would like to throw a quiet warning into the mix: since both Adam Smith and Karl Marx got the future of their own visions very wrong (witness: capitalism today, and communism/socialism circa 1990 or, better yet, 1932-3), should we find this new Adam Marx of the New Digital Wilderness — send out a search party like Tibetan monks on the quest for the new Karmapa or Dalai Lama — and quickly innoculate him against utopian over-reach? A quick course in the history of how-things-become-completely-different-from-what-we-intend-them-to-be? (G. I. Gurdjieff had the right insightabout this.)
Class assignment: In the world that will result from this, what, if anything, will the following mean (or become)? Nature. Culture. Materiality. Textuality. Plasticity. Writing. Wild(er)ness. Domestication. Property. Freedom. Ecology. Reality.
I really do want to read this book. In my view it is 3D printing and nano technology that will mutate capitalism to the point where a kind of speciation will take place and whatever kind of a world we find ourselves in it won’t be capitalism (or Kansas) anymore. One of the ideas I’m toying with for my EGS dissertation is to take a stab at writing an economic theory to describe this kind of a world, but I’m really the wrong person for this job. I’m surprised that no one has done it yet. I predict that within the next 10 years (and probably within the next 5) someone will give it a shot.
Whatever the future will be it won’t be a utopia. Personally I go back and forth about whether we should be more excited or scared about this technology but I tend to land more often on the excited side.
The really really scary parts:
Anyone will be able to print out an AK-47 anytime they feel like it.
Even worse, anyone will be able to print out an atomic bomb anytime they feel like it. Imagine the Columbine shooters or the thousands of other troubled kids with access to an advanced 3D printer.
Even worser still, there are already how to guides that show you how to destroy the world with nanotechnology. This is beyond a WMD, this will destroy the entire planet in a few hours. As bad as it would be to have just a handful of people with there finger on this kind of a button, it might one day become realistic that all of us will have our finger on this button.
Is there anyway to stop someone from printing out a WMD? I’ve thought a lot about this and I’m not really sure what is possible. Maybe we could make a global scanner that scans the whole planet once every second looking specifically for certain types of weapons? If, for example, you try to make a self replicating nanobot or an atomic weapon we would find out about it the very second you start printing one out. Then it would kind of be like a fire department response as police/bomb squad descend on you before it’s even finished printing?
But even right now we’re already in a race between people who develop new computer viruses and security systems to protect from those viruses. Half the time the virus makers win the round and force the security people to catch up. It would only take one round for some bad guys to out develop the existing security systems and create a really awful weapon.
I’ll try to start answering some of Adrian’s questions.
Not everything will be infinitely reproducible. Most material things will be, but real estate will still be scarce and this will be a major issue. I lot hangs on what kind of political system we have to control real estate. Will it all be shared? Will we divide it up? Will some people be owners and some people be renters? Will the state own everything? Will a small group of elite aristocrats own everything?
There will only be one Jerusalem and who controls it will still be scarce (can you imagine an Israeli/Palestinian conflict in which each person could print off an unlimited supply of weapons? Israel wouldn’t like that very much I don’t think).
We will be able to print out as much food as we like so that will free up lots of farmland, but the hip parts of Miami beach will still be scarce.
And people will still be scarce. Sometimes when I think about what a post-3D nano printer world will look like I think that there will be much more emphasis placed on human relationships and creating social relationships that exclude some people and elevate other people’s status. So instead of material scarcity being one of the main drivers of inequality we will set up social relations which attempt the same end. But of course things will be much much better under that situation because even if you’re on the bottom rung of social status you’ll still be able to eat and create whatever you imagine. And you can always flip these social hierarchies around, none of them will be stable, and many of them will feel internally superior without necessarily generating any envy from outside.
Skills and knowledge will still be scarce. Some people will be extremely talented programers/engineers/designers. Imagine Matisse with a 3D printer. I’d want the world he could make much more than the world I could make. The people who are really good at these three things (and probably a whole host of new skills that haven’t even been invented yet) will have much more power than those who are average or illiterate in these areas.
The future will be a very creative but maybe also very lazy world. Right now there is only a small set of people who can live like Paris Hilton, parting every night and buy anything they desire without having to produce anything of value. But in the future a Paris Hilton lifestyle will be a temptation for many people. I’m reminded of this unusual Graeme Wood article on the Secret Fears of the Super-Rich. It’s hard to feel sympathy for these people yet you end up understanding a little bit that the rich have a kind of existential crisis that most of us avoid because we have to work for a living and because reality puts up more resistances to our desires. Around 2060-2070 or so I think we will have a massive generation gap between kids who’ve grown up never knowing what it was like to have scarce physical resources and their parents who at least understand somewhat because they were the transitional generation. We’ll have a whole generation who basically confront the big questions of what to do with themselves when reality starts bending too easily to their wills. To me this is kind of exciting, I think it will force humanity (or post-humanity) to figure itself out.
In the comments Adrian writes:
When I mentioned it to a friend while driving in the Green Mountains today, he suggested driving to the top of one of them and jumping off.
Don’t jump! But this is a perfectly normal response. When I talked about this with my classes last fall one of my students got really visibly depressed. He threw up his hands and said in effect “what will be the purpose of living anymore?”
Creativity! Think about how weird our dreams are. Scientists are already training computers to “see” what our brains see. Imagine being able to print out your dreams or watch them back on video screens in the morning. The whole world will become one giant trippy Dr. Seuss Alice in Wonderland on acid.
Really really cool body modifications will be normal. Second Life and furries are test driving the future in this regard. I’d love to have a fully articulate money tail and/or wings. I’m too heavy to fly but maybe I could glide.
And it won’t be as if no jobs are needed anymore. We will still need doctors for example, although one of the first places that nano 3D printers will revolutionize will be medicine. We’re already seeing 3D printed human organs, hearts, bladders and skin (skin is easy). So maybe in the future we will all have increased medical literacy and basically be able to diagnose and fix ourselves to a large degree. Some diseases will be a thing of the past. People will be able to print out new hearts, for example, inside their body. No surgery needed. It will be quite routine. But we will probably need some specialized doctors who will still need to work. Will these be volunteer positions? Will they be paid in social gratitude and status?
And there might be less glamorous jobs that still need to be done that no one will want to do. Transportation will still be a big limit factor, but why work as a pilot or flight attendant when you don’t have to work if you don’t want to anymore? How will we get these kinds of jobs done if we don’t have money to bribe people with anymore?
Will the basic necessities that are still scarce like real estate become much more expensive? Will we have to work these shitty jobs in order to pay rent? Maybe I’ll have to work 40 hours a week as a flight attendant and put 100% of my income towards my rent. Or will there be a spirit of volunteerism? Maybe as a result of some soul searching we’ll realize we’re all bored and we find meaning in doing these necessary but undesirable jobs for one another?
One great thing that nano 3D printing will do for us is completely solve our global warming crisis and most of our other environmental problems, provided we don’t make things too unsolvable in the meantime. We can easily recycle anything into its elemental parts, we can clean up C02 with clouds of nanobots, we can “print” out clean water, etc.
Murder’s will be much easier to cover up. Just dump a body into any digital recycler and everything is gone.
Some cool (but maybe unethical) thought experiments will be testable. Everything Derek Parfit wrote about personal identity will become scientifically testable. We wouldn’t even need to clone ourselves, we could just scan and print copies of ourselves. But would that copy be alive? If you hooked it up to a heart and lung machine would it wake up? If not that tells us something pretty significant about the nature of the mind/soul doesn’t it? For those of use who think that the mind is reducible to neural networks in the brain then copying all of those networks atom for atom should result in a living breathing human being with intact memories and all.
Okay, enough for now. I could go on and on. I love thinking about 3D printing. What I would like to do this next year is learn 3D software much better than I currently know it so that I can start trying this stuff out. I think I’ll also find some way to get access to a MakerBot, either through school or the Art School in the Art School, or the local hackerspace, and eventually our local public libraries. Every public library should have a public 3D printer within the next 3 years. That’s going to be one of my missions.