Hardly a week goes by without headlines about 3D printing, a technology that’s going to change the way you live. Welcome to the next industrial revolution.Not only does it hold implications for the levying of taxes but it would end a great deal of the scope for control through IP law. Who's to know if you printed off something that's patented if you just use it quietly around your own property and don't make a scene? And if you can make the 'ink' out of something that can be grown in your own garden and all the component parts of the printer from the printer itself it's not like there's a lot of scope for controlling supply of either the printers or material.
But what has changed is that 3D printers are becoming cheaper, smarter, better and more ubiquitous. One of the more remarkable developments came from Adrian Bowyer of the University of Bath, with RepRap, which stands for ''replicating rapid-prototyper”, on which I reported for this paper. RepRap had first been honed to print out everyday plastic goods such as door handles, sandals and coat hooks. The machine works like a printer but, rather than squirting ink on to paper, it puts down thin layers of molten biodegradable plastic which solidify to make objects.
Three years ago, however, the machine had succeeded in copying all of its own 3D-printed parts, which could be assembled into a new RepRap machine.
RepRap marked the birth of a domestic machine, a revolution analogous to that which saw the mainframe computer give way to the desktop PC. Recently it became available in kit form and Bowyer has already sold 100. All the while, the software and other ingredients are getting cheaper. There are rival kits, from Bits from Bytes to MakerBot. There are hackers adapting and improving them. As the technology mutates and evolves, the quality of the objects they can make gets better.
... We might get to a point where individuals can make all the things they want (including, of course, the RepRap machine that does the making).”
He likes to think of it as a new kind of home-grown movement, but for goods rather than food. “Your attic room will be your machine kitchen-garden, making everything from door handles to mobile phones. And if you have an actual kitchen garden as well, you can grow the plastic for RepRap - that’s polylactic acid, which is made from starch. You’ll have a self-replicating machine making useful goods from a self-replicating material supply.”
And here’s his revolutionary parting shot: when the day comes when we can all use 3D printing to make our own, we will have less need for money. “Where money doesn’t flow, it’s very hard to levy taxes.” Vive la revolution!
Is it a step closer to post scarcity? I honestly don't know, but if it is bricks will be shat in capitals the world over.