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.