A while ago, I was waffling on about how the tools we’ve got let us capture 3D info, and very cheaply. Capturing 2D info is easy, it’s called a scanner.
I was impressed, coz the 3D scanners can now be got for less than 100 Euros. Yeah, well, that’s the home stuff. The professional kit can now capture 3D data in real time, and for large outdoor spaces. That kit was used for the new Radiohead video. It’s all position data. None of this is recorded using light, it’s all just points in x,y,z space:
This is how I see the world, when I’ve been doing too much design work – just clouds of point data, marking out the location in space of corners, edges, surfaces. It screws with your perception of reality.
Here’s how it was done. And that’s drooly-worthy in and of itself, but it may change the world. Kinda*.
Link a 2D scanner to a printer and you’ve got a photocopier. Ok, now imagine the step-change from early medieval times to today. Then, every page of writing had to be copied by pen, by hand, and cost astounding amounts of money, sufficient that books where rare, locked away in monasteries and, for all practical purposes, totally irrelevant to most people’s life. Today, I can copy and print text at essentially zero cost, my job involves not much but reading, everyone I know can read, and the written word rules the world.
Okay, right now, reproducing a physical object is expensive, tedious and error-prone. (I know, I’ve been making lots of error-prone physical objects recently.) But we’re heading rapidly towards the point where any physical object can be reproduced, anywhere, at ever plummeting cost. At which point, the techno-libertarian fantasy says “all your physical objects belong to us!”. Kinda.
* And here’s where I think this is far more complicated than anyone has worked out:
You may have noticed that, despite having zero-cost reproduction of writing, we still have a publishing industry, bookshops, and authors getting paid. The first we don’t need for physical reproduction, nor the second, and the third is the only essential part, but the current setup seems to do that part particularly badly.
Partly this is inertia, we’ve yet to reach the new equilibrium, partly the system is a response to the search problem of sorting the written wheat from the chaff, and partly it’s coz business models like 20th Century publishing have an inbuilt and strong resistance to being made obsolete (see copyright laws, DRM, and this XKCD toon).
However, 3D objects are not words on paper, or tunes, or movies. They are far more than just data to define the surface of a closed volume, that volume being filled with homogenous stuff. Pick up any manufactured object on your desk, think about what’s inside it. Okay, coffee cup, no prob, could reproduce it already with a sub-$10K 3D printer and a sub-$1K kiln. Mp3 player? Full of astoundingly complicated stuff, strange materials, patterned on a sub-micron scale. We’re not making that from a 3D printer till we’ve got nanotech, and when/if we have, then all bets are off.
So, making all the interesting objects is far harder than 3D printing allows. It makes it easier, but nowhere near zero-cost.
Also, the nefarious uses of 3D printers are sufficient that I don’t believe any government will allow their unrestrained use, just as colour photocopiers won’t copy bank notes. From a geek-libertarian point of view, I should be annoyed about this, but frankly, I think it might not be a great idea to give everyone the ability to make a zero-cost machine gun and bullets in their own garden shed.