3D printing and how crazy we all are

There’s a thing called 3D printing and it’s pretty easy to understand, but the printers themselves are still fairly tough to build. What happens is, computers use atomic-scale three-dimensional maps of common objects – like toothbrushes, automobiles, or leather jackets – and then simply ‘print’ them out with specially-designed molecular depositors. This is already done in your dentist’s office to make custom-shaped fillings. Making the more complicated stuff is, I think, mainly a matter of energy.

I didn’t know what to think of this when I first heard it. It seemed as if, well, if anything can be produced by a single machine with a pattern database, and everything has the same cost of manufacture, and if as much of everything as needed for everybody can be made, well, then, how do we figure out how to maintain our inequality?

This didn’t phase my twelve-year-old for an instant. When I described 3D printers to him he asked, “so, when these come out, will we get a subscription to them like for music, and use them as much as we pay for?”

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