What do you think of 3-D printers? Are you excited? Do you have plans? Or do you think, "Oh, man I don't even...that's for kids of kids to enjoy but I ain't got time to worry about it."
What a fantastic and unexpected question.
In 1999 I was working in a multimedia/ video production office and we were helping produce a video for a faculty going for an NSF grant. He was helping to develop a process that, at the time, was called "Solid Freeform Fabrication", I believe. I stood there and watched the process happen (well, watched it on the monitor), and couldn't understand how this was happening, how it was possible.
It was an amazing technology, watching parts within parts rise from a sea of dust on the power of lasers and engineering. It was like a special FX sequence but it was happening in front of me, just one of many terrific sci-fi as life moments that I experienced working in the College of Engineering (nuclear reactors, robots, super computers... it was always something new and bizarre). But I didn't really understand the implications until recent times when it seems that this technology will move out of corporate environments and could soon be consumer-grade stuff.
Like the distribution of media via electronic means or the coming change in education, I'm watching with bated breath. Self-produced manufactured goods is the next game changer. In fifteen years, kids will draw their ideas for toys into an app and print their own action figures. We won't go to the store to buy certain or, perhaps, many items... we'll just buy the design online based on ratings and print up that thing at home. We'll have access to things imagined by weird people who never wanted to be mechanical engineers, but they've had an idea and refined it and now it's just out there in the sea of ideas. Maybe you'll buy a portable battery device to make it work. It's the @#$%ing Diamond Age.
It's going to have us ready to similarly work with and feel comfortable with other technologies that enable us to generate and design technologies at home. 3D printing today, matter converters tomorrow. Making iPhone Apps is going to seem like rubbing two sticks together for a spark.
I was extremely ecstatic until someone mentioned that guy who was putting designs online for making guns, and suddenly I got a lot less excited. If you can print up a gun, what else are you going to print up? A drone to fly that gun into my living room?
None of this means I think we need to control 3D printers or have some sort of government oversight on printing, but it dissolves the supply chain that could be interrupted to keep some items out of the hands of folks who wouldn't normally be licensed to have military assault weapons. Between you and me, I don't want 13 year-olds printing up M-16s before their parents come home from work.
Let's them them print up nunchucks and shuriken, though, because every kid should have those.
So, yeah, stuff is going to get real complicated with this amazing new power we're giving ourselves.
For me... well, I lack imagination. I don't know what I'd print out immediately. A lifesize bust of our own Randy? A Theodore Roosevelt action/ adventure playset? I don't know.
But as these things become accessible and better, I look forward to how it will create opportunity for artists, for inventors, engineers, scientists, kids... all of us, I guess.