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Thursday, September 20, 2018

Microstory 934: 3D Printing

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, sounded absurd to me when I first heard whispers of it years ago. Objects are made of so many different kinds of materials, so it seemed impractical to keep each one on hand in raw form at all times. As that one guy in The Graduate says, in one of only two scenes I’ve watched, “plastics.” Plastic is manufactured from a myriad of chemical compounds, and formed in a multitude of ways. It is widely available, cheap to make, and capable of assuming any form. It also lasts for thousands of years, which is why it’s so bad for the environment when wasted. Despite its issues, plastic may be our best hope to combat scarcity and inequality. One day, I believe everyone will own two 3D printers; one for synthesizing food, and another for clothing and household items. Certain places will use other types. Every hospital will be equipped with artificial tissue synthesizers, in order to replace bodily organs. Construction companies will utilize specialized mega-printers to build skyscrapers in a matter of days. The average consumer will never have to leave their housing unit to shop. Goods will be selected online—or rather, the technical specifications for them—and printed in minutes, maybe hours. Entire companies will be shuttered, and replaced by those in the business of processing raw plastic cartridges, and delivering to end users via automated drones. This, combined with other societal advances, such as universal basic income, will render jobs virtually irrelevant and unnecessary. I won’t speak more on that, though, because if you’ve been following, you know how excited I am for this future. As of now, most people have no use for a 3D printer of any kind, but in fewer than thirty years, they will be as ubiquitous as microwave ovens. It may sound crazy now, but in the same span of time, the idea of owning a tiny computer the size of a calculator, with access to the whole world, was the stuff of science fiction.

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