Archive for February, 2012

The makers

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

In the long term, our society will either have to change drastically or collapse. As technology progresses, more can be accomplished
by fewer people in less time. This means less work to do for an ever growing population.

It is true that new ‘things to do’ will come up, but as we apply technological progress to them, again there will be less people needed to do them and more people on the planet. This is called progress. (likewise by the way, if we don’t get off the planet before we use
this one up, we’re doomed too, and that seems more likely to happen first)

The reason I bring this up is because of the makers. You may or may not have heard about this wonderful technology called 3-D printing. The basic idea is that instead of molding plastic, or cutting wood, you print the thing you want or the part you need on a 3D printer. Sounds like death to manufacturers to me. Until now these things have been big and expensive but recently there have been printers that cost less than $2000. There are plenty of limits don’t you worry. At the moment they can only make things out of certain kinds of plastic that have limited size (I think they said a breadbox is the largest thing you can make right now) and it’s really slow.

But. That will end quickly. They’re working on making high temperature plastics, and even metals for printing. So the problem quickly becomes that you no longer need to buy anything you only have to buy the plans and print it yourself. With your expensive
personal printer. Except that the printers at this point can almost make all the parts they need to reproduce themselves. (humans are what 3D printers use to reproduce themselves.)

So the only commodity left on the planet are fuels for energy and fuels for printers. Everybody else is out of a job.
Now of course there will be plenty of work in assembling parts and there’s endless office work to do. People can push meaningless paper around forever, so that will occupy some people. But at some point the printers will be able to print robots that can do the parts assembly. Right now they can make all the parts of the printer, but they can’t make the circuitry or the programming so this is still a long way off, that’s still really high tech stuff, but you can see a black cloud forming.

Now forget all that, here’s the real problem: The people who make the plans that tell the printer what to print are going to be the powermasters for a little while. They hold the keys to the kingdom. Except that like music and movies, actual physical STUFF has now been turned into digital media that can easily be copied and pirated. There’s the free software people that will spend endless hours designing plans for a cam shaft for a 1968 corvette for free which will rob chevy of any future sales of corvette cam shafts.
Of course there’s the business people who (will) expect to make a business out of selling plans for parts for everything you would ever otherwise buy and end product of. for. of. Never end a sentence with a preposition. But as soon as one person buys the plans, he can netflix it over to his best buddy and then quickly there’s no market for plans either.
So how will anything ever get done if there’s no value in any work or any products? Nobody will be able to work for money and nobody will have any money to spend on materials. Remember the only thing you have to buy anymore is ink for your printer, everything else is free or stealable. So things will have to change. One way or another, something is going to happen. Probably not in my lifetime, but it will happen, you can’t unmake these printers. You can make them illegal, but that will just foster a black market or
a regime change.

But like I say, we’ll probably burn up the planet first.

Who knows, maybe land will become scarce, since you can’t print that.
Buy land, they ain’t makin’ any more.