An article in The Guardian today discusses the downside of 3D printing, the computer technology that recreates objects as 3D wireframe models so that they can be manufactured as single units.
For some time now, this has been seen as a ‘magic bullet’ for manufacturers, who will no longer have to worry about economy of scale. Don’t throw away a washing machine when one part goes wrong, simply replace the one-off part! It’s the logical extension of the process that first saw light with print-on-demand DVDs and books.
But if digital manufacturing removes the low-level jobs currently provided by older technology, what happens to the millions who’ll have no employment? Not everyone can become designers, engineers, IT specialists or logistics experts.
The future isn’t what it used to be. I listened in fascination to a guy behind the counter of the HMV home entertainment store on Oxford Street explaining how region-encrypted DVDs worked. Slowly and painfully he went through the differences between SD (Standard Definition), HD, Blu-Ray, UltraViolet and 3D. By the time he tried to explain why where was no such thing as SD 3D, both he and the customer were hopelessly confused. Finally the customer said, ‘Don’t bother, I’ll download it on Bit Torrent.’
What had happened was what always happens; business had interfered with technology, turning breakthrough science into something to be feared and hated. This is an idea that has been around at least since ‘The Man In The White Suit’, in which Alec Guinness invents a material that never wears out or gets dirty, only to be stopped by business concerns.
We know that some people will seek out the simplest solution every time and use it in preference to every advance. If a new technology arrives that proves too complicated, it may never take off.
In the UK, the Segway was promptly banned by councils for the usual ‘Health & Safety’ reasons. Flat TVs arrived forty years after they were first promised. Oil and leather replacements are still far off. And the kicker is – when the technology of the future finally gets here, it may never be put into use for economic reasons.
I wanted to put the trailer for ‘The Man In The White Suit’ here but it’s been disabled, for which you can thank the French.