Dystopian Future: When people print their own guns

When a disruptive technology is about to bloom, lawyers get nervous.  This has been the case with 3-D printers, but there is one project that it pushing the boundaries: Defense Distributed.  Defense Distributed wants to make the “WikiWeapon,” which will be a file.  But, it’s the implications of this file that makes this feel like the Crypto Revolution as told by Steven Levy.  Eventually, with this file and a 3-D printer, one could print all of the mechanical components for a gun.

But according to this article, Stratasys, whose 3-D printer Defense Distributed wanted to use, pulled out on the deal citing a legal “gray area.”  This is the gray area that reads like a Cyberpunk story.  In fact, this sounds a lot like Bruce Sterling’s Kiosk.  I hope that Defense Distributed is successful.  It’s not that I want to live in Revolution-like world (ok, that doesn’t really work but I’m loving that new tv-show, at least until HIMYM Season 7 is available on Netflix), but 3-D printing and Open-source Hardware stands to change our cultural DNA, just like open-source software has.  Honestly, it’s not even about the guns, because Defense Distributed wants to make the recipe, which could make a gun.  Just like someone could publish a book, or a blog post, on how to make a gun, or model airplane or whatever.

What I also learned from this effort is that there is a 3-D printer that can be made completely from 3-D printed parts.  The RepRap is one such self-replicating machine.  If I wasn’t such a software geek and actually built something that occupied 3-D space vs. a string of bits on media, I would go out and join a Hackerspace right now.

Defense Distributed is realizing the idea of a world where the average Joe (with a 3-d printer) can download a file and then print anything that will fit in the printer, whether it be toys, components, or guns.  I believe this is the next wave of disruptive tech.  Of course, WIRED picked this up on its front cover.

After I wrote this, Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle came creeping into my head, which warns against giving  a lot of destructive power to irresponsible people.  This effort certainly has a feel of Ice-9, but ultimately, I am more in-favor of the freedom of information vs. restricting it.  For example, technologies that empower privacy, like Tor, are overall a good thing for society even though they can be used maliciously.

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