“In The Early 2020s We Will Have Elegant Low-Priced Printers For Our Homes”

Vivek Wadhwa, who wisely looks at issues from all sides, has written an excellent Singularity Hub article analyzing which technologies he believes will impact global politics in the next two decades.

In the opening, he asserts something I think very true: an ascendant China isn’t really scary but that state in steep decline would be. He further argues in that first paragraph that fossil fuel is in its dying days, something that probably needs to be true if China, with its world-high cancer and air-pollution rates, is to remain stable. A nation of 1.3 billion will only cough and choke for so long. Solar and wind can’t arrive soon enough for that country, and for us all, though oil-dependent nations unable to transition will be destabilized.

An excerpt about 3D printers:

In conventional manufacturing, parts are produced by humans using power-driven machine tools, such as saws, lathes, milling machines, and drill presses, to physically remove material to obtain the shape desired. In digital manufacturing, parts are produced by melting successive layers of materials based on 3D models — adding materials rather than subtracting them. The “3D printers” that produce these use powered metal, droplets of plastic, and other materials — much like the toner cartridges that go into laser printers. 3D printers can already create physical mechanical devices, medical implants, jewelry, and even clothing. But these are slow, messy, and cumbersome — much like the first generations of inkjet printers were. This will change.

In the early 2020s we will have elegant low-priced printers for our homes that can print toys and household goods. Businesses will use 3D printers to do small-scale production of previously labor-intensive crafts and goods. Late in the next decade, we will be 3D-printing buildings and electronics. These will eventually be as fast as today’s laser printers are. And don’t be surprised if by 2030, the industrial robots go on strike, waving placards saying “stop the 3D printers: they are taking our jobs away.”

The geopolitical implications of these changes are exciting and worrisome.•