Pressing printing

Investigating the revolution in 3-D printing technology.

Brian Reinken

Mcor Technologies caused quite a stir when it discovered how to make three-dimensional prints at a mere 5 percent of the industry’s standard cost. In less than six months, several key patents in 3-D printing are set to expire.

All of this has led some observers to conclude, fearfully or otherwise, that the human race is standing on the brink of another industrial revolution. 3-D printing is here, and it isn’t going away.

“Industrial revolution” conjures simultaneous images of speeding silver trains and smoke-screened cityscapes. There appears to be little room for any moral middle ground; change seems either for the best or for the very worst.

Accordingly, those who follow the news may remember the panic that followed the U.S. State Department’s investigation and subsequent castigation of Defense Distributed, a corporation that had been publically posting instructions on how to print plastic guns in 3-D.

The question that it posed: Should the 3-D printing revolution, suddenly more ominous than benign, be quelled before it begins?

I get it. Guns are scary. But it’s easy to forget that when modern technology is progressing at this speed. We’re already within the “next” industrial revolution.

Smart phones, GPS and the very Internet itself were all unknown to our parents when they were children. All of these technologies have introduced new complications into human life. The debates that rage on about the invasion of privacy, for example, are indicative that our society is in the middle of a tumultuous overturning of the old order, a continuous restructuring of what we consider to be the social “norm.”

Our values are being constantly tested by innovation, but to react reflexively against the path toward progress will take us as a nation — and as a species — nowhere.

Guns are an almost inevitable outcome of the revolution that is about to unfold in 3-D printing. But gunpowder, upon its invention, was used by the Chinese to make fireworks in addition to firearms. Albert Einstein’s work on quantum theory reshaped war, yes, but it also revolutionized the field of physics.

Ultimately, any object’s value rests with the manner in which that object is used. Television can be a tool, or it can be the proverbial vast wasteland. The Internet houses symphonies and poetry, pornography and hatred.

3-D printing, then, will certainly be abused by those who seek to terrorize the human race. These people, regardless of the restrictions imposed upon them, will find ways to exploit technological advances. Thus, it is of the supremest importance that, looking forward, we dwell not on these violent, vociferous individuals, but rather on the great, silent majority whose throngs teem with doctors and engineers, with idealists and visionaries too preoccupied with honest work to speak as loudly as their defamers.

In the past year, 3-D printing has been used to generate, among other things, functional human livers, ears and skull plates in addition to viable rocket parts for NASA. Theoretically, the technology could someday be used to print food.

Should we, in a reactionary spasm, recoil in offended horror from a technology whose possibilities seem limitless? Or should we rather embrace industrialization on account of the enormous quantities of good that it will produce?

Ultimately, we cannot run from progress — in the modern world, there’s nowhere left to go.