Get Ready For Future Shock

Devices
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I stood on a turning platform while a 3D scanner recorded my image. The scanned image was immediately sent to a 3D printer where I was reproduced in sandstone, baggy pants and all.

The buzz surrounding 3D printing is everywhere. And if you want to see a slice of this future technology in person, New York’s Museum of Arts & Design (MAD) has a new interactive exhibit called “Out of Hand” which demos this remarkable process. As part of the exhibit, visitors can have their own image scanned, reproduced as a three dimensional replica, and sent to them in a few days. It’s very cool!

The impact of 3D printing on art, architecture, and design as shown at MAD is an eye-opener—especially if you take a tour led by a museum docent. But what really blew my mind was seeing and hearing how 3D printing can reproduce just about anything—a shoe, a toothbrush, an engine, a prosthetic limb. Not just an image of the thing, but the actual “thing!” I’m also told a human heart and kidney have been “printed,” although they were not part of this exhibit.

What are the consequences of this awesome technology—for good and bad?

I did some digging and found that a classic 1911 shotgun was reproduced by a California engineering company. I’ll put guns, especially the untraceable kind, in the NOT SO GREAT category. In the wrong hands, the possibilities for misuse boggle the mind: reproductions of art sold as originals, economies flooded with counterfeit money, bogus industrial parts, a human brain. Ugh!

On the benign side, A.J. Jacobs, a writer for The New York Times, “printed” an entire dinner of edible food for himself and his family.

Some Australia youngsters born without fingers have gained almost complete mobility in their hands thanks to customized prosthetics produced by 3D printers.  One-offs are being made to replace parts for antique cars, airplanes, and just about anything you can imagine. For a fascinating view of additional possibilities, check out this video.

 

Although this technology has been around since the 1970s, 3D printers are becoming more affordable with low-end models starting at about $500. (The most complex models still cost hundreds of millions of dollars.) When prices fall enough to make 3D printing more available, will this technology transform the world as we know it? To me, the possibilities seem endless and eerie.

What do you think?



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