3-D Printing’s Accessibility: Good or Bad?

3-D Printing has become a revolutionary way to provide cheaper and more efficient healthcare to people due to how accessible it is. Although many people can benefit from being able to create cheaper – but just as efficient – products, when and how will our society be harmed from its convenience?

As long as you have a 3-D printer, material, and a design, it’s possible to create almost anything. The two first ingredients are already becoming more and more available, and designs can be easily uploaded and downloaded from websites such as Thingiverse.

I have always been aware that it would be very difficult to control what people can or cannot 3-D print, but I was optimistic and thought that the government would find a way to somehow control it.

However, a NY times article speaking about 3-D printed guns reports that, “The Department of Homeland Security anticipated this problem, sending a memo to law enforcement noting that ‘Limiting access may be impossible.’” I was shocked to hear that the DHS wouldn’t be able to do anything about it, but I soon realized that they may be right.

The article also explains that, “these weapons are very difficult to detect at security points, as they often don’t have metal parts … which could easily pass through a metal detector.” Not only are the 3-D designs of the guns difficult to control, but so are the physical guns themselves.

Another article from NPR explains how 3-D printing can be used to create DNA strands that can be used to medically treat patients or create more efficient genetically modified organisms.

Although most scientists use 3-D printed DNA for those purposes, some are worried that the public may use these processes to create their own organisms. Marcy Darnovsky – the director of the Center for Genetics and Society – points out, “Is that what we want? Do we want anybody, including potential terrorists, to be able to create entirely novel life forms – new creatures? Do we want that teenager next door to be creating Godzilla in the bathtub?”

The concerns about guns and fabricated organisms are definitely real, especially when there is little to no way to control these ideas. Governments and corporations have tried relentlessly to control illegally downloaded music and movies, yet most internet users can still find a way around it.

Media files already freely circulate the internet, but how will we react when, suddenly, so are files of guns and monsters? It’s distressing to think about how these shared 3-D designs can cause physical harm to us.

In my own experience, I was aware about the issues about design control, but had never really thought about these other factors that may play into it. I hadn’t thought about how impossible it sounds to control ideas on the internet, and what kind of things people could create with them. Do the benefits for 3-D printing really outweigh its dangers? Is accessibility – one of the key benefits of 3-D printing – something we should take away?

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