Replicators a Reality

by Don Boudreaux on July 9, 2011

in Complexity & Emergence, Creative destruction, Innovation, Technology, The Future, The Profit Motive, Video

Recently I posed this far-out scenario as a means of stimulating careful thought about economic progress and the way that progress is measured using conventional concepts and national-income-accounting categories.

Turns out that my scenario isn’t as far-fetched as I assumed.  (HT to the more-than-a-dozen people who’ve sent me links to this video)  Wow.  Wow!  Wow ten-thousand times over!

Watching this remarkable technology, I can’t help but reflect on the importance of Matt Ridley’s point that progress is fueled by ideas having sex with each other; the resulting creativity makes optimism rational.

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Martin Brock July 9, 2011 at 10:13 am

I had heard of 3D printers but had never seen one in action and had never seen one produce an artifact with moving parts. It really is astounding, but like anything else, once convinced of the possibility, one begins to imagine how such a thing could work and what its limitations could be.

The host of the video says, “This changes everything.” I had the same thought, but the net has already changed everything, and the automobile changed everything before that, and the printing press changed everything earlier. The rate at which everything changes is accelerating.

What are the economic consequences of this accelerating rate of change? Wealth is a consequence, but so is the dissolution of wealth. If everyone suddenly has a replicator, many people are suddenly richer, but specific individuals are not richer. If I previously was much richer than most, because I sold many widgets now produced by replicators, I’m not richer. I’m poorer. People I previously employed are now unemployed, even if their replicators make unemployment more tolerable.

Of course, the hypothetical replicators you proposed are fictional, and although 3D printers are remarkable, they aren’t nearly as wealth enhancing as your hypothetical. Real innovations create wealth for some people by destroying the wealth of other people, even if the total volume of wealth increases. An increase in the rate of this creative destruction has economic consequences, particularly when conservative states try forcibly to conserve the dissolving wealth.

Krishnan July 9, 2011 at 10:44 am

Change (of any kind) has consequences – creative destruction forces change of a kind that results in increase in wealth for all (yea, there are always losers in the short term and they will remain losers if they refuse to adapt OR use “rent seeking” as a way to preserve what they have)

Martin Brock July 9, 2011 at 10:55 am

Right. But my question remains. What form do these short-term consequences take? Forcible propriety, like intellectual property, limits the diffusion of benefits of creative destruction. Never mind some theoretical world without these restrictive forces channeling wealth. What economic organization emerges in the real world, subject to the forces, as the rate of creative destruction increases?

Krishnan July 9, 2011 at 11:46 am

Intellectual property is PROPERTY – and so like “real” property – I mean, why not? If someone invents something, the benefits should go to him/her – In fact, it is BECAUSE of protection of IP that we have seen so much innovation/creation – … And yes, I am aware of how that process can be abused (like everything else) – but IP should be protected like all “real things”

PrometheeFeu July 9, 2011 at 12:09 pm

Wait, how is intellectual property “like” real property? The two don’t look remotely similar. If I take something you own, you don’t have it anymore. If I copy something you “invented” you still have the invention. To steal your real property, I must come and directly interact with it which means it is easily detectable. If I copy something you invented, I can do so in my basement without you ever noticing unless you are willing to violate my privacy. Your intellectual property violates my real property. If I have a sheet of paper and some ink. You are allowed to prohibit me from arranging those items in a specific way. I cannot violate your real property without going out and interacting with something that I must necessarily know is not mine. It is possible for me to violate your intellectual property by just putting together a device which happens to be the same device as the one you put together.

“If someone invents something, the benefits should go to him/her”

Why? That sounds an awful lot like people who say: It’s my job you can’t take it.

” In fact, it is BECAUSE of protection of IP that we have seen so much innovation/creation ”

Prove it. IP severely limits innovation because I am not allowed to innovate on things that others have originally innovated upon without their permission. If I innovate in a way that is similar to the way someone else has innovated, they ca choose to sue me. Those two things clearly and observably limit innovation. What evidence do you have in the opposite?

Martin Brock July 9, 2011 at 1:44 pm

You need not copy Krishnan’s invention to violate his patent. You can also reinvent it, and this sort of reinvention happens routinely. It’s the rule rather than the exception in the creative process, and as more people have greater access to more information, they’ll invent the same things more and more.

In this context, patents only gum up the works, and they don’t reward most inventors at all. They punish most inventors. A patent only rewards the first person in line at the state agency granting monopolies to produce particular devices, and this person often is not the inventor at all. Often, he’s a corporate officer. The patent robs every other inventor of a patented device and everyone else for that matter.

Martin Brock July 9, 2011 at 1:52 pm

“Property” is a legal term. It means whatever the armed men enforcing property rights say it means. The utility of a particular property right is an empirical question.

vikingvista July 9, 2011 at 10:39 pm

“‘Property’ is a legal term.”

“Property” is also a Merriam Webster term. More important, it refers to a concept from which Merriam Webster and the law draw from when their creators produce their products. Of course, the concept came first.

It’s useful to know what laws some people have pronounced to have some idea of what actions they might try to take against you, but it has absolutely no value in otherwise understanding the world, including property.

Martin Brock July 9, 2011 at 10:57 am

Do we have longer, deeper recessions for example? Most of the economists I hear attribute the “great depression” to politics and finance in one form or another, but economic fundamentals also changed very rapidly at this time.

Dan J July 10, 2011 at 1:49 am

This should make muirgeo deliriously ecstatic….. As long as u can afford a replicator, that is. With a replicator, download the product u want and, WHAMMO…… There it is!!!!!
Unbeleivable!!!!!
That is cool!
The 5,000 year leap is rapidly becoming the 10,000 year leap due to a freer market. Get govt the hell out of the way and imagine the possibilities.

Ron H. July 10, 2011 at 4:51 am

“”If I previously was much richer than most, because I sold many widgets now produced by replicators, I’m not richer. I’m poorer. People I previously employed are now unemployed, even if their replicators make unemployment more tolerable.

You may be missing an important point here. While the replicator would make everyone’s life much easier, it would also make manufacturing much easier.

There are currently many things people could make for themselves, including widgets, but they don’t because it’s easier, and maybe cheaper, to buy them already made. Things like bread, soap, and clothing come to mind.

You could still make widgets, but your production processes would change, and widgets would become much cheaper to manufacture.

Linda Seebach July 9, 2011 at 10:18 am

My son’s in-laws got him a set of 3-D printed D&D dice for Christmas; he posted Coolest dice ever! to his blog http://www.seebs.net/log/articles/528/coolest-dice-ever, and included a link to a Flickr picture.

Your broader context is spot on too. While we were all passing the dice around the restaurant table where they were given to him, he put one on his laptop keyboard, took a picture of it with his iPhone, sent the picture to the computer, posted it to his blog on the restaurant’s WiFi, and the post was up before the other dice got back to his place at the table.

That’s just as remarkable as having replicators cheap enough to use them to make Christmas gifts (his dice are metal), but it has become so commonplace so fast we hardly notice.

Dan J July 10, 2011 at 2:03 am

Assuming the material used to make the replications are in greater abundance than the materials of the original and that each replicated device can be recycled, this will absolutely change scarcity of materials of the originals. Question is consider amount of energy used to replicate. Also, making originals much cheaper…. For the less affluent to afford.
Amazing how technology affords the less affluent more comforts in life (upgrading their conditions with little productivity of their own).
As Dr. Sowell mentions the saga of the air conditioner, expensive and in the hands of the few, whereas it is now in households of the ‘wealthy’ and the ‘poor’.
The transitions of new experimental products making their way from afforded to the ‘rich’ and then over time to ‘most’ in all financial classes is well documented and a type of evolution that should be respected rather than denigrated by ‘instant gratification’ progressives.

PrometheeFeu July 9, 2011 at 10:29 am

The limitations today are pretty significant actually. But something Don might find even more amazing is the fact that there is a 3d printer kit currently being sold for around $1,300. (http://store.makerbot.com/makerbot-thing-o-matic.html) Sure, it does not do as much as the more expensive model in that video, but it is still fairly impressive. (I saw a guy who made a can opener which requires that the item be able to withstand a decent amount of stress) There is also currently a project called RepRap (reprap.org) which aims at creating a 3d printer that can print its own parts. Of course, we are not quite there yet, but still. Apparently, all the specialized parts (aka parts which can’t be found at RadioShack or Home Depot) are already capable of being made by the RepRap.

Some people may worry that this will be the end of full employment and that our economy will be plunged into a depression by all that free stuff. (Woe be us with all our cool gadgets and nothing to do all day long!) But in reality that is not the case. Knowing several people who have 3d printers, after the first couple days of amazements at making random objects, their time started being oriented towards figuring out what the outer limits of the printer are and how to go further. Well, it turns out there are plenty of devices you cannot create with a 3D printer. So, good all human ingenuity comes in and they started making parts that they then assembled into something bigger. AKA humans are always complements to technology because outside of thought experiments, there is a limit to every technology and humans are needed to push that limit further and further.

Martin Brock July 9, 2011 at 11:41 am

I don’t imagine any free stuff. In fact, I suppose your friend’s can opener was much more costly than one I could buy at Wal-Mart, even ignoring the cost of his replicator and the time he spent designing and printing it. I suppose the “ink cartridges” are expensive. Cartridges for my ink jet printer certainly are. I could print my own books, but ordering a book from Amazon is much less expensive.

But I can’t order this blog from Amazon, and I don’t want it on paper anyway. I presumably can’t buy the Thorn Dice Set at Wal-Mart either, because the dice aren’t mass produced. This technology is certainly a game changer, but the consequences aren’t so obvious.

Do you know how much your friend’s can opener really cost him?

PrometheeFeu July 9, 2011 at 11:55 am

Of course it’s not free and he probably could have purchased a cheaper can opener at a nearby store. My point was more that a can opener is a device that must accept some amount of stress in order to function and it was possible to construct it using such a printer. So one can imagine that there are other more expensive items that could also be printed. Furthermore, there are some convenience aspects. Yes, he had to design the model to make that can opener and that took time, but now anybody can have access to it. (I believe he posts his designs online. I didn’t pay much attention since I don’t have a 3d printer to use those designs.) Not having to go to the store could be practical. Finally and most importantly, this technology is still very young. Future innovations will keep bringing the costs down and increasing the capabilities. My point was just that this technology is moving forward, it is moving rather fast and it is rapidly becoming accessible to people of modest means.

Martin Brock July 9, 2011 at 12:45 pm

Anyone can access his designs if he posts them and claims no copyright or patent. This technology opens a huge can of worms in the intellectual property game. The personal computer revolution gave us software patents, and the internet gave us the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, all in the context of the internationalization of IP. We haven’t seen the full impact of these global restraints of trade.

When people can print a patented device on these machines, old-fashioned patent holders will cry for more reforms, despite the fact that the expense of mass producing a device like a crescent wrench is the only decent rationale for a patent monopoly in the first place.

Richard Stands July 9, 2011 at 2:18 pm

“This technology opens a huge can of worms”

Pun intended?

Richard Stands July 9, 2011 at 2:57 pm

If Mark Twain was still alive, he might pen a new edition where the output from these printers begins replacing the officially sanctioned version of a product with a common replication, thereby driving the patent holders into poverty.

Of course, this time around he might spell it “The Prints and the Pauper”

Dan J July 10, 2011 at 2:15 am

Marxists, surely would look to ban this device, but have one at their own disposal. The threat of technology making man less necessary in employment, and the rest of his nonsense about impoverishing more and more. Only the intellectuals, who wish impose their will on the masses, have been the greatest means of impoverishing more people.

anomdebus July 9, 2011 at 4:09 pm

Fyi, if you go to the makerbot link, they sell the abs plastic in spools. It costs about $50 for 1kg. That price will almost certainly go down as it becomes more common.

SaulOhio July 10, 2011 at 6:38 am

The Thing-O-Matic is cool, but its like those hobby home computers built by tech geeks when Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were still kids tinkering in their parents’ garages. I’ll wait till the technology improves.

vidyohs July 9, 2011 at 10:53 am

I think the point was made in previous exposures to this technology that if for nothing else the 3D printer can cut down the time needed to manufacture a more solid and durable item, because it reduces the time it takes to develop and make a mold. That alone makes it valuable technology.

I took a look at my coffee pot this morning and thought of how many parts of that coffee pot could be made by one of these 3D printers, and it turns out that quite a few. I am drying vegetables in a dehydrator, and outside of the electric motor, virtually all the parts could be made using the 3D printer, and they would probably be just as durable as the composite that makes up the bulk of the dehydrator as it is now.

Dan J July 10, 2011 at 2:17 am

Ah… When a product breaks down, the single component that fails could be easily replicated.

Stone Glasgow July 9, 2011 at 11:27 am

Oh. My. God.

I thought this tech was many years away.

Scott G July 9, 2011 at 11:36 am

My company bought an inexpensive version of one of these for about 50K and we use it to demo new products. Currently we’re designing something that will give protection service providers the ability to identify individuals using a _____ (I can’t say).

Doc Merlin July 13, 2011 at 5:33 am

They have massive versions of these machines that can print using concrete… they can build large sculptures and even rooms or buildings with them.

Ron H. July 13, 2011 at 1:03 pm

Who is “they”?

Reference please.

Scott G July 9, 2011 at 11:30 am

Yes, your scenario isn’t as far fetched as you assumed, but it is still distantly fetched since these printers will not likely become general replicators since they can only create all plastic and ceramic parts.

I wonder how two competing politicians would use these 3D printers to his or her advantage. One might say that unemployment will sky rocket due to the 3D printers, and the other might say that we should invest in general replicators as a way of boosting our economy.

Both are false claims.

One should not judge policy by intentions. Intentions are not results. (Where did I hear that recently? One of the LearnLiberty videos I think.)

It seems that politicians have an almost endless quiver of ideas for which they can use to trick uninformed individuals. Fortunately, the revolution against government that some of us desire, is slowly taking place in that technology is now replicating the ideas of great thinkers. Good ideas and bad ideas are having sex, but only the children of the good ideas will survive in the long run.

Those of us now living are seeing a revolution take place that libertarians of the past dreamed of.

“For the State to fade into extinction, a comprehensive learning process would have to have taken place among the public at large because one of the most important aspects of any State is the ideas about the State that lead people to accept the State as a beneficent and necessary institution in the first place. The learning process would have to have taught the public about the predatory nature of the State, and that life could go on in a more efficient, prosperous and happier way without the State.” Walter E. Grinder, in his Introduction to Albert Jay Nock’s, Our Enemy the State.

I’m optimistic that the State is losing this battle. Consider how individuals are now learning about libertarianism with how David Henderson learned about libertarianism in his college days. Here’s an excerpt from page 7 of his Joy of Freedom: An Economists Odyssey.

September 1968, Winnipeg
“In the final two years of my three-year degree (the standard length of a college degree program in Canada), I got two college educations. For approximately the first half of the day, I faithfully attended classes for my math major and physics minor and did the homework for those classes. As soon as I finished, I would spend the rest of the day getting my two main rewards. One was the chance to read a book or an article on economics, politics, history, or philosophy that Clancy or one of the other libertarians had recommended. I, who had never been a regular reader, was reading about a book a week. The second reward was even more fun: the chance to be together with Clancy around in the library, I would usually find him in the cafeteria, arguing with a liberal or socialist or occasionally, a conservative. I learned a lot just from being around him.”

Now thousands of people have the opportunity to be around Don Boudreaux, Russ Roberts and similar great economists. Prominent libertarians are adding 5 to 15 Facebook friends a day and many of them have posts which are visible to thousands of their friends. All it takes is clicking the Like or Share button to make their ideas visible to one’s own friends.

The important replication, that of ideas, is taking place at an exponentially increasing rate.

Krishnan July 9, 2011 at 11:52 am

The signal to noise on the “internet” is still too small for the average reader – but with a little help, almost anyone can get “educated” in almost any field possible … The “fundamentals” in most sciences/technology are available in some form, somewhere and of good quality – I feel that unless Universities change what and how they teach, the “consumers” will reject that product as “insufficient” – “Academically Adrift” should be an eye opener for those depending on state and tuition dollars for their living –

I agree whole heartedly that the replication of ideas is indeed taking place at an increasing rate – and it will benefit us all …

Scott G July 9, 2011 at 12:22 pm

Interesting comment about the signal-to-noise ratio of the internet. Can you say more about that?

Great comments about universities and consumers, especially the phrase academically adrift. I think the same thing is happening to other sectors of government provided services. I left a federally defense-oriented funded research and development think tank for this exact reason. My feeling is that I had to move into the private sector and get some real skills.

Krishnan July 9, 2011 at 3:31 pm

About signal/noise – not all websites are created equal (!) – (no matter how slick they may look) – say someone wants to learn a programming language, they should first chat with someone knowledgable about programming and what to look for – there are HUGE number of sites for teaching chemistry, physics, math – you name it – it is overwhelming – where can one begin? What can one trust? For a beginner, it is easy to be led astray easily –

“Academically Adrift” is a book by Richard Arum, Josipa Roksa and they talk about the limited learning environment of colleges/universities – students do not seem to get better after 4 years in critical thinking/etc – Most undergrad degrees have become quite useless – you hear comments like “I need a Masters” (or in many cases a PhD) – there are still some exceptions, but the pressure to graduate as many students as possible using the easiest path is intense – grade inflation has taken it’s toll – a 4.0 has become meaningless (one can earn more than 4.0)

I’d say Higher Education in the US (and around the world) is in a crisis – standards have fallen (for entry and graduation) and the trend does not look good – …

Linda Seebach July 9, 2011 at 2:25 pm

@Scott G, “these printers will not likely become general replicators since they can only create all plastic and ceramic parts . . .”
Not true . . . the maker of the Thorn dice offers silver, stainless and bronze (material, not finish) as well as gold-plated.

Scott G July 9, 2011 at 4:10 pm

Interesting. Thanks for the info.

anomdebus July 9, 2011 at 4:29 pm

He said these printers, meaning the resin type printers. Laser sintering costs a lot more and isn’t a general purpose solution either.

SaulOhio July 10, 2011 at 6:19 am

I’ve seen some that do titanium.

Dan J July 10, 2011 at 2:26 am

But, a climatic event between the old thinking of ‘govt should do something about it’ and the more enlightened view of ‘I should do something about it’ (‘IT’ being whatever your concern of self interest is) will occur. A clash of sorts. I hope the clash is more an exchange of words rather than violence.

Martin Brock July 9, 2011 at 11:54 am

Prominent libertarians are adding 5 to 15 Facebook friends a day and many of them have posts which are visible to thousands of their friends.

Yeah, but while Fight of the Century (which is awesome) has a million youtube views, Zeitgeist and its sequels have millions more. Both criticize the Fed, but Zeitgeist does not advance a classically liberal agenda. The effect of the net on politics is hard to predict. The “Tea Party” began among Ron Paul’s supporters, but it has since attracted a hodgepodge of populist “conservatives”, and “conservatives” are not classical liberals, not remotely.

LowcountryJoe July 9, 2011 at 12:08 pm

The “Tea Party” began among Ron Paul’s supporters

I’m going to disagree about this one. It would be more accurate to say that the Tea Party began by those who were moved by Rick Santelli’s rant in February 2009.

Martin Brock July 9, 2011 at 12:35 pm

The Paulis were already organized at this point and formed the core of the “Tea Party movement” initially, but you’re right in another sense. Santelli’s rant has many features more attractive to the emergent “Tea Party”. He makes good points, but he also ignores the fact that his neighbor with an unaffordable mortgage wasn’t the principal beneficiary of the bailouts. Holders of mortgage backed securities were. I don’t want to bail out my neighbor with an unaffordable mortgage either, and this story has broad appeal, but it diverts attention from the big dollar, corporatist players exercising far more influence in Congress than Santelli’s neighbor, and these players like the “Tea Party” that emerged far better than the Paulis.

Scott G July 9, 2011 at 4:51 pm

I’d never heard of Zeitgeist before you mentioned it. Yes, they do have many views which is good to know about. I’ve done some simple calculations below that you might find interesting however.

The quick summary of which is that the like-to-dislike ratio is 5 times higher for Econstories videos, and the percentage of people that say they like “Fear the Boom and Bust” is twice as high as the two Zeitgeist videos below.

Zeitgeist 2011 8,495,832 views, 56,040 likes, 2866 dislikes, like/dislike ratio = 19.5, 0.6% like.
Zeitgeist Addendum: 2,511,311 views, 7834 likes, 530 dislikes, like/dislike ratio = 14, 0.3% like

Fight of the Century: 976,142 views, 12,212 likes, 155 dislikes, like/dislike ratio = 78, 1.2% like
Fear the Boom and Bust: 2,459,668 views, 15,761 likes, 221 dislikes, like/dislike ratio = 71, 0.6% like

This data shows that people who watch Econstories videos are much more likely to like those videos than are the viewers of the Zeitgeist videos are to like the Zeitgeist videos.

A more rigorous comparison of videos would have to take into account ReasonTV, Econtalk, LearnLiberty, Institute for Justice, Cato, Stossel, videos vs. all the statist videos. My guess is that statist videos have higher views (at the moment), but the rate of increase of libertarian videos is increasing at a much higher rate. And more importantly is that the acceleration (the rate of change of the rate of change) of the number of libertarian video is much higher than the statist videos. I have no evidence for this.

If I had the evidence I believe it would show that that liberty is going to win the battle of ideas.

Dan J July 10, 2011 at 2:33 am

Liberty will win…. But not before experiencing pains. Authority is rarely given up without violence. Bhutan, is one that was supposed to move int he opposite direction of those in authority trying to gain more, but that is superficial. I understand that the ‘king’ still has powers and statism remains as powerful as before they began the removal of monarchy.
From one authority to another.

Jim July 10, 2011 at 8:53 am

I am idealist enough to believe that free market philosophies will generally move the population in their direction through continued exposure.

vikingvista July 10, 2011 at 8:14 pm

Liberty’s evolutionary advantage is not so much in its tendency to create agreement in new norms of behavior, but rather how it expands individuals’ abilities to ignore those norms. It isn’t good policy that libertarians should hope for, but advances that make policies unenforceable and irrelevant.

LowcountryJoe July 9, 2011 at 11:55 am

I was giving thought to how well this would do in replicating my .357. Then that thought led to the TSA complications because this twisted thought immediately came to mind.

LowcountryJoe July 9, 2011 at 11:59 am

Let me clarify, please. Thinking about this particular weapon from this particular film came to mind. Not — NOT! — what that purpose/use of that weapon was intended to do in this film. You can call off the agencies I’m NOT making a threat here.

DG Lesvic July 9, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Prof Boudreaux,

You spoke of “stimulating careful thought about economic progress and the way that progress is measured using conventional concepts and national-income-accounting categories.”

Here was Mises’ thought about it.

There is no measurement in economics, hence, not math.

And by the way, now that the even the most ardent mathophiles here, and, especially VikingVista, have retreated from math, when will it be expunged from the curriculum at GMU?

DG Lesvic July 9, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Prof Boudreaux,

You spoke of “stimulating careful thought about economic progress and the way that progress is measured using conventional concepts and national-income-accounting categories.”

Here was Mises’ thought about it.

There is no measurement in economics, hence, not math.

And by the way, now that the even the most ardent mathophiles here, and, especially VikingVista, have retreated from math, when will it be expunged from the economics curriculum at GMU?

DG Lesvic July 9, 2011 at 12:05 pm

Sorry for the duplication but I got a false signal.

Also, another typo,

I said not math

Meant no math

DG Lesvic July 9, 2011 at 12:16 pm

Prof Boudreaux,

You spoke of “stimulating careful thought about economic progress and the way that progress is measured using conventional concepts and national-income-accounting categories.”

Here is what Mises thought about it.

There is no measurement in economics, hence, no math.

And since even the most ardent mathophiles here, especially VikingVista, have retreated from it, when will it be expunged from the economics curriculum at GMU?

DG Lesvic July 9, 2011 at 12:17 pm

Sorry for yet more duplication but I keep getting false signals here, sometimes the posting appearing and other times not appearing, so I don’t know what’s going on.

Scott G July 9, 2011 at 12:23 pm

I was getting some false signals too.

Jim July 10, 2011 at 8:57 am

W3 Total Cache and the servers appear to be set up incorrectly.

Don, on a highly interactive site, it may be better to go with a third party comment system; media temple’s server configuration will make a current local cache difficult to implement well.

Seth July 9, 2011 at 12:26 pm
Krishnan July 9, 2011 at 3:35 pm

Ah yes, we will sure see tissues being engineered – produced and implanted – for each patient, exactly what he/she would need to help them live, or live better! (yes, still some ways off – but within a decade or so – perhaps sooner!)

Seth July 9, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Seems the spam filter caught my comment. Google the TED talk where they used a 3D printer to print a human kidney.

Greg Webb July 9, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Wow! I love it! Technology and human innovation are wonderful! I cannot imagine anyone wanting to live in a previous time like the 1930s, unless, of course, you don’t understand history or economics. The key to innovation, and the advancement of humans, is to keep government out of the process. If you don’t, the producers, through government coercion, will dominate consumers and other potential competitors in order to keep things as they are, rather than improve the world and people’s well being through technological innovation.

Yosef July 9, 2011 at 1:08 pm

Indeed, ideas have sex with each other and combine. Check out this video, in which a 3D printer uses only sand and solar power to produce glass products.

http://thisiscolossal.com/2011/06/markus-kayser-builds-a-solar-powered-3d-printer-that-prints-glass-from-sand-and-a-sun-powered-laser-cutter/

The types of inputs that 3D printers can makes use of is expanding as well.

Jim E July 9, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Two thoughts about these 3D printers:

(1) That Don B. and many others are so amazed when they first see this is “I, Pencil” evidence that no one can know more than a tiny fraction of what goes on in the world. To those of us in the engineering field, these machines are mundane: they have been around at least 15 years (although they keep getting better and cheaper), and yet most people (including accomplished college professors) have never even heard of them.

(2) I recall a science fiction story I read 20 or 25 years ago about someone who invented a replicator (don’t recall the name or author, just the storyline) that could replicate anything.

One character in the story told the inventor: now you MUST invent something that CANNOT be replicated with this machine, and that is what we will use to make money. If even money can be replicated, what do we use to “pay” for things like services that cannot be replicated (e.g., dental work)?

Jim

Doc Merlin July 13, 2011 at 5:36 am

bitcoins! er or really some sort of cryptographic medium of exchange.

EG July 9, 2011 at 1:26 pm

I was briefly involved in research on a 3D printing related subject. 3D printing is not a “replicator”, needless to say. The video also makes it seem a lot more “useful” than it really is (as of yet). Its great for early rapid prototyping, if you have the money…but lets not get carried away

Methinks1776 July 9, 2011 at 2:32 pm

Yes, let’s get carried away!

That which we can’t imagine today will become commonplace in the future.

I remember well a time before computers, internet and cell phones. I remember cameras with film and enormous VHS players (hell, I have Beta tapes). I recall the miracle of the Apple 2E! And looking at it then, I never imagined browsing the internet from a cell phone. But, somebody did.

EG July 9, 2011 at 2:55 pm

There were 62,000 other technologies and designs which failed, before the ones you speak off managed to succeed.

3D printing is one of several alternatives which may succeed in any particular area…or it may succeed in just one area (as it is doing now), or it may ultimately not. This technology is still very early in its infancy

John Galt July 10, 2011 at 12:48 am

It will succeed if there be capitalists.
You can buy Don a Makerbot Thingomatic for $1300 unassembled or $2500 assembled.
This device can make print him a replacement car stereo knob, gasket, gas cap, door handle, gps mount, remote control battery cover, sunglass frame, ipod case, bottle cap, ice cube tray, tupperware lid, Hayek bobblehead, dentures, shoes, purse strap, or laser sight mount.
A real altruist would get him an MIT Cornucopia food printer, Exeter chocolate printer, or ZCorp rubber printer.
For $20000 and up, you can get a Connex 500 or Alaris 30.
In less than a year watch for breast implants, hips & knees exactly fitted to your body via radiology scan.
Read more at mit dot edu ~tdp

vidyohs July 9, 2011 at 1:50 pm

Damn capitalist inventors, it’s greed, greed I tell you! They will charge for its purchase or use!

It’s dangerous, a kid might wander in and make a toy gun or a toy sword with it. Destroy the schematics!

It was invented first in Moscow.

vidyohs July 9, 2011 at 2:05 pm

The End of History?* Francis Fukuyama** 1992

http://www.wesjones.com/eoh.htm

Hmmmm, the end of history, 1992, eh? Nothing more to see, hear, or do here on Earth, move along, move along, go back to your play time.

Paul Ehrlich…….where are you……Fukuyama wants to share your hiding space.

Kirby July 9, 2011 at 4:54 pm

I don’t think a lot will change, except for one thing:
Cheap stuff that people feed into replicators will cost just as much as anything else made from that material. Or;
The whole will become truly the sum of its components, no longer greater.

Yosef July 9, 2011 at 4:57 pm

Umm, have you actually read The End of History?

Fukuyama’s point is not about the termination of all inventions and progress. Rather it is an end to a mode of political conflict an the emergence of the dominant position of liberal democracies.

Yosef July 9, 2011 at 4:58 pm

Sorry, this should be a reply to Kirby, who said:

“Kirby July 9, 2011 at 4:54 pm
I don’t think a lot will change, except for one thing:
Cheap stuff that people feed into replicators will cost just as much as anything else made from that material. Or;
The whole will become truly the sum of its components, no longer greater.”

Yosef July 9, 2011 at 4:59 pm

Curses, a different post got in the way of my coping, the reply was to:

“vidyohs July 9, 2011 at 2:05 pm
The End of History?* Francis Fukuyama** 1992

http://www.wesjones.com/eoh.htm

Hmmmm, the end of history, 1992, eh? Nothing more to see, hear, or do here on Earth, move along, move along, go back to your play time.

Paul Ehrlich…….where are you……Fukuyama wants to share your hiding space.”

Apologies to Kirby and for all the posts

vidyohs July 9, 2011 at 6:25 pm

I take refuge in poetic license, thank you very much.

SaulOhio July 10, 2011 at 6:31 am

The really cool thing is you don’t even need to own one of these. There are online 3D printing services. You just draw up your plans, upload them to the company’s web page, and they ship you the final product. This is going to be WAY cool for hobbyists. I wanted to make molds to build carbon fiber hydrofoils, but they don’t offer it in large enough sizes yet. Maybe I can customize one of those Thing-O-Matics. They come as a kit you can build yourself.

Warren Smith July 10, 2011 at 9:46 am

“Watching this remarkable technology, I can’t help but reflect on the importance of Matt Ridley’s point that progress is fueled by ideas having sex with each other; the resulting creativity makes optimism rational.”

Re: sexuality of ideas
The printing press put thousands of scribes out of work, but within a century popular publishing had become established, then newspaper publishing, paper manufacture and all of the machine and distribution services that support these efforts eventually morphing into the print we see on the web pages of today. Ceaseless and unpredictable innovation.

Re: effect on the GDP
The result of “ideas having sex with one another” is that the GDP had increased due to the “Gutenberg Replicator”.

Warren Smith July 10, 2011 at 9:57 am

The 3D Replicator is well covered on Youtube. Commentators have mentioned that Jay Leno has used this to work on his automobile collection. Yet, judging from the video which started this discission, the technology seems to be unknown to most of the readers of this site as well as many acedemics in the field of economics and physics.

This seems strange in an “efficient market” scenario.

Dan J July 10, 2011 at 5:37 pm

All products take time to become mainstream…… Example: air conditioning units

libfree July 10, 2011 at 9:44 pm

This technology is still extremely limited in the materials that can be used. Boeing is investing tons of money trying to make a 3D printer than can print entire aircraft wings but its still a long way away. I know that certain types of nylon can be printed. Most of the metals that can be printed are fairly expensive. These have been around for quite awhile for making models out of wax.

Warren Smith July 10, 2011 at 6:55 pm

Granted, but ZCorp 3D printer brings up 766,000 google hits. Why has this product come to the “mainstream” so slowly? If this technology was so slow to draw attention, then it causes one to wonder what esle has escaped the attention of the “efficient market.”. In the context of economic theory does this give support to entrepreneural processes evolving a price as opposed to an instantaneouslly established and fully informed price?

SaulOhio July 10, 2011 at 8:08 pm

Slow? When I first heard of this technology, I didn’t think it would be commercially important for decades. Now anyone can upload their own designs and get something they thought up created at an affordable price. And you are complaining its slow?

Critics of free markets are always so impatient, expecting progress overnight.

libfree July 10, 2011 at 9:48 pm

@Don Boudreaux
You might enjoy “Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100″ by Michio Kaku. It’s a good overview of current technologies, how they are advancing and where we can expect them to go. Written for the lay person. Sadly, his final chapter is how economics will be effected by these changes and he does as well as you would expect a physicist to do.

Warren Smith July 11, 2011 at 5:30 am

Re: SaulOhio
To ask a question is not to criticize.

bcarl July 11, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Another 3D machine out on the market is 2BOT’s ModelMaker. It uses inexpensive materials compared to the makerbot or reprap. Also, it works so much faster, about 1 inch per second, than other 3D printers.
http://www.2bot.com/product-info

jstults August 1, 2011 at 8:51 pm

More imports from the land of technology:
Customers include a disabled Dutch woman whose Ultimaker has printed gripper hands for robotic arms that she uses to grasp small candies, something her previous gripper could not do.
Ultimaker: There’s a New 3D Printer in Town

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