Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Some Serious Questions for Futurologists Hyperventilating About 3D Printing

So, when 3D printing doesn't Change Everything… When it doesn't create cheap superabundance… When it doesn't "print out" superhero replacement bodies for you to strut around in…

Will you, like, be embarrassed?

At all?

Will you have become a little more skeptical about techno-utopian claims?

Will you have learned anything about confusing ideal devices with real ones?

Will you hesitate from then on to pretend cartoons are the same thing as working models or actual specs?

Will you consider pausing for a moment before imagining technological outcomes occur without a socioeconomic context, without learning curves, or unforeseen engineering hurdles, or funding struggles, or regulatory pressures, or stakeholder struggles?

Will you come to question even a little bit the motives of those who attract attention and money they would not otherwise get by appealing to what look a whole lot like wish-fulfillment fantasies?

As someone who has witnessed, one after another, the irrational exuberance over the "new" digital economy, virtual reality heaven preachers, nation-state smashing crypto-anarchists, nanotech paradise boosters, genomic soopermen overlords, social network digi-radicals…

I'm guessing the answer will be… No.


Dale Carrico said...

Quite apart from all the techno-utopian bullshit artistry I have witnessed first hand, I could add that I am also a student of a history which includes nuke-boosters promising clean safe energy too cheap to meter, slick pundits peddling tee vee as war-ending global village, "Green Revolutionaries" promising petro-industrial agriculture as an end to famine, suits selling ubiquitous plastic crap as the end of poverty....

Mitchell said...

+1 for historical perspective

Summerspeaker said...

Cheap superabundance is a social more than technical problem, so there's little reason to assume more production will result in more egalitarian distribution. Way back in the 1880s, Sitting Bull remarked that the "white man knows how to make everything, but he does not know how to distribute it."

Dale Carrico said...

Poverty is a political problem, superabundance is the futurological fantasy that technology can overcome the impasse of stakeholder politics that bedevils the solution of all shared problems, including very much the problem of poverty. As an anarchist, you are of course especially susceptible to that brand of stupidity, Summer. I strongly prefer Sitting Bull to the bull you generate sitting at your computer.

jimf said...

I first read about "3D printing" (under the rubric "molecular spray")
in a 1950 SF story called "Tools of the Trade" by (Mormon SF author)
Raymond F. Jones.

The owner of the starship repair-yard in that story is also a
raging libertarian who has nothing but contempt for the government
bureaucrats being ferried around the galaxy in some of the
ships that land at his drydock for repair.

I didn't know anything about libertarianism (or Mormonism!) when
I first encountered the story in 6th grade in the school library
(in a 1960 anthology entitled _Space, Space, Space_ ),
but I certainly loved the story. The politics, at that age,
went right over my head. ;->

Barkeron said...

My question for the 3D printing-cornucopiasts is how this family of technologies could possibly lead to abundance of anything (besides cheap plastic doodahs, of course). Those stuff needs raw materials, you know.

"The notion of absolute post-scarcity has always struck me as more fantasy than fiction: unless one is dealing with a simulated environment, there will always be limits to how much matter and energy you can move around in a given interval, or squeeze into a finite volume of space. [...] So there will always be some things that are out of reach, or can’t be supplied on a whim."

(Al Reynolds, )

(And that from a man who wrote about "criminality genes" in his latest novel.) And it's not only physical limitations you have to deal with, but also technological and economic ones.

Chad Lott said...

All I know is that if 3D printers are anything like the printers in my office, they will be heaps of bullshit.

"PC Load Letter? What the Fuck does that mean?"- Michael Bolton, Super Hacker

jimf said...

> [There] will be heaps of bullshit. . .

Especially if you have to unclog the print heads.