To Boldly Go

When I hear about 3D printers fashioning a T-bone steak, an automatic weapon or a work of sculpture from sand, I can’t help hearing that tinkling-magical sound from the Star Trek transporter room.

There was nothing. Now appearing before our eyes, is something. Or someone.

And at the same time, I hear the sound of the Borg Warship approaching–a sound that made you just a little uncomfortable until the edge was dulled by the next commercial. Besides, you always knew Captain Kirk or Picard would bring things together for good in the end.

In the case of 3D printing, I’m not sure we can have that assurance, nor that we have given this technology’s possibilities for good or evil much thought at all.

And yet it is likely to be transformative, and also to experience synergies with other emerging technologies–in memory stored in DNA, and gene engineering, in robotization and nano-technology.

What the human mind can conceive, it will ultimately create.

Be careful, little hands, what you build.

What if the home owner some day can create from free or vanishingly cheap molecules or particles (water, cellulose, proteins, specific cell types mass produced in tissue culture, carbon molecules or nanoballs or tubes) objects of any level of complexity or size. What will we make of that, do you think?

How about a 3D steak? a bowl printed from sand? Read especially about “wiki-Weapons” and the issues this new technology will add to our already complex menu of ethical double-binds.


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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. What a brain-breaker subject this is, Fred. Makes my head hurt. Of course we won’t have any laws or regs in place ahead of time. That will all play catch up.