Post scarcity. These two words conjure visions of a utopian future where people no longer have any limits on what they can get as far as goods are concerned. The way to this vision of the future has been depicted in countless ways, but perhaps we may be on the road to post scarcity right now.
The 3D printer is a machine that molds things out of (generally) liquid plastic, making an object from plastic that matches a blueprint provided by the user, who enters it in using (generally) a computer. At this point, the 3D printer is more of a novelty than anything else, at least for people who aren’t machinists, architects, gun-makers, or people who create objects from plastic on an everyday basis. It’s not a cheap novelty item either, with most 3D printers being over $1000 dollars. They also aren’t very large at this current stage. Certainly most of them aren’t big enough to print a chair in one sitting, instead needing to making multiple components that, when attached, form a chair. But while there are severe limitations to this technology now, there is no reason why the tech won’t progress to get cheaper, more versatile, more efficient, and able to create larger things.
The first step would be incorporating other materials besides plastic into these machines. Most things that can be turned into a liquid will be easy to mold into whatever shape is desired, but things like clothes will take some time. Yet even with just the addition of liquid rubber, so many more options for things to be created open up. As time goes on and more materials become able to be incorporated into 3D printers, the range of things that can be created increases. While they’ll still be a price for the materials themselves, the printer cuts the workmen and assembly line out of the process, getting you the thing you want for a cheaper price.
However, this whole process does not cut out the designer. But as time goes on, companies and people designing objects for 3D printers and selling those blueprints will become more and more common. Imagine Apple selling the blueprint for a custom built chasis for it’s newest laptop, telling the printer where chips should be placed, where wires should be soldered. People would clamor for it. At the same time there would probably be a network of blueprint pirates who would try to crack the blueprint files and distribute them free or for reduced prices. Design, at least in the 3D printer world, could become free of charge for certain things.
And as time goes on, the components to create 3D printers will become cheaper. Imagine purchasing a computer when they were the size of rooms to purchasing a desktop now. The price is much smaller, and the machine is much more efficient. I imagine that the development of the 3D printer will be around those lines. And as the components become cheaper and the machines more efficient, no longer will it be prohibitively expensive to get a large 3D printer, perhaps one big enough to make a car.
Now, the 3D printers of the future I’m describing are by no means the harbingers of the fully post scarcity economy, and this is just my opinion. There’s no guarantee that these printers will develop in the way I describe. There is little chance the printer will ever be able to create food. There will always be a materials cost associated with whatever is being made. But the 3D printer is certainly a step toward post scarcity. And until we find a way to mold matter into whatever shape we like and change its properties, there will still be some scarcity present in our economy.