Here’s another sf-nal thought experiment to keep your brain occupied. We frequently mention 3D printing and fabbing here at Futurismic, but usually in the context of its positive disruptive potential – a potential sea-change in capitalist economic systems, for example. But here’s a negative response from analyst Nick Jones of the Gartner corporation [via Fabbaloo]:
… do we really want an affordable domestic fabber? Fabbers will likely “print” objects using some form of plastic. So the inevitable consequence of mass market fabbing will be a huge increase in the amount of non-biodegradable plastic waste clogging up the planet for hundreds of years into the future. Should we maybe ban fabbers before the problem arises? Like most problems there are solutions, like biodegradable plastic. But if we wait until all the problems with a technology are solved before we permit it, then we will waste a decade or two of potential value; and in any case there’s no way we can predict all the social and environmental issues associated with a new technology before it arrives.
I’d agree with Jones’ last point – social disruption patterns, particularly, are very hard to predict accurately (which is probably part of the reason they’re perversely fun to discuss), and it’d be a shame to lose out on the potential power of fabbing to transform the life cycle of many of the things we use on a daily basis.
But there will be plenty of people who will see fabbing as a threat, environmental or otherwise, and who will push for legislation to control or suppress it. A victorious climate lobby would certainly flex its muscle against a technology that promised to democratise mass manufacture, as would those corporations whose bottom lines would vanish overnight – not just delivery firms like FedEx, but the factories in developing nations that churn out tchotchkes and basic hardware at low-low prices. It will be interesting to see how the traditional left-right political binary will fall across this issue; I suspect it might not be in the direction most easily assumed.