The two sides of 3D Printing

Any new technology gets defined by the way it is used, particularly when it comes to deciding whether it is generally a positive or a negative influence. For example, videogames are either portrayed as improving reaction times and problem-solving, or as creating couch potato serial killers. Meanwhile the internet is either a way for the world to connect and share, or a destructive force on our ability to form coherent thoughts.

And in a sign that I might have got my prediction right for 2012 as the year of 3D printer, it seems like the same debate, praise and outrage will be coming to a 3D printer near you very soon, as various use cases are starting to be picked up by increasingly mainstream media.

The nice side of 3D Printing:

Currently representing the nice and lovely side of 3D Printing could be the Origo, which is a concept for a 3D Printer aimed at children, enabling kids everywhere to create real physical interpretations of their imagination. The focus is very much on simplicity, with the description of a product which is about the size of three Xbox 360s, costs about the same as three Xbox 360s, and is quite, easy and simple in the manner of an appliance like a toaster or a microwave.

Sounds pretty good for adults too, considering the need for simple effectiveness to bring 3D Printing into the mainstream, when the concept itself can still be slightly weird for a lot of people. As much as I like more DIY approach, the simple fact is that not only does it limit the number of people willing to experiment with it, but it also means people can relegate it to something for the geeky engineers in life, and therefore ignore it.

“Origo: 3D Printing @ Home” by Artur Tchoukanov from Umeå Institute of Design on Vimeo.

 

The naughty side of 3D Printing

At the same time as we’re sat considering the joy that 3D printing could bring to children, a debate has been breaking out on the Thingiverse site which allows people to share Makerbot projects.

The cause? Two creators have uploaded guides to making parts of an AR-15. The first is an AR-15 Rifle Magazine, which is potentially slightly odd, but is also greatly overshadowed by the presence of an AR-15 Lower Receiver, which is the frame which holds the other parts of the weapon together, and is apparently the only part which requires a background check before purchase in the U.S. The uploader claims he has shared the details as a response to the presence of the magazine, in an attempt to get clarification on what is or isn’t allowed on the site, as there isn’t a clear-cut rule.

AR15LowerReceiver3DPrintingImage

As John Biggs points out in his post on the subject, what’s interesting isn’t whether this particular case is allowed or not – what’s fascinating is that we’re at the point where working parts for weapons can be created by anyone with a 3D printer and the required files. That’s not to say that repairs to the ubiquitous AK-47 haven’t been carried out in the unlikeliest of places for the last 60 years, but suddenly new technology makes it quicker and easier.

It’s not possible yet to print an entire working gun from scratch as far as I’m aware, but it can’t be far away, and what implications does it have for not only weapons manufacturers, but for licensing for gun owners? Or for the availability of weaponry around the world.

Technology doesn’t kill – People do:

It’s an interesting point in the evolution of 3D printing, but it’s also a reminder that has been true for every piece of technology invented in the history of humanity – the way it is used will always be defined by the person using it. We’re getting to the point of algorithms going beyond their creators and self-replicating robots, but we’re not quite there yet.

Whether the internet, videogames, mobile phones or any other technology is good or bad is really meaningless given that all technology is simply subject to the useage of humans, which are inherently both (often at once). After all, at the same time as Call of Duty is sucking up an enormous amount of human endeavour in finding ways to kill each other online, gamers have also solved a problem in Aids research which has puzzled scientists for years. The Philosophy of Technology could be a field that becomes amazingly important in the modern age.