An anarchists' revolution

An anarchists' revolution

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The Oculus Rift headset is one piece of technology that could offer mind-blowing experiences.
The Oculus Rift headset is one piece of technology that could offer mind-blowing experiences.
Photo: NYT
Technological advancements have long made the impossible possible, and will continue to do so. The mobile phone, the personal computer, and the internet are among the many great technological leaps of recent decades.

Lying ahead is augmented reality (AR) technology. The Oculus Rift device will immerse us in virtual worlds, while apps like Nokia City Lens overlay information on the real world around us. There's one technology, however, that lets us create physical forms out of thin air: 3D printing.

Working like a traditional printer, 3D designs can be downloaded from the internet and, by using a special material (usually plastic), three-dimensional objects can be created.

And you can do all this from the comfort of your home or office. Major stationery shops are already stocking up on 3D printers and printing materials, although such technology remains pricy.

Why is 3D printing noteworthy? Because you can duplicate virtually anything using a variety of malleable materials. Tests are even under way with edible substances, so one day we may be able to "print" food with this technology. Britain's Daily Telegraph has hailed the technology as a "new, bottom-up revolution." Individuals will be able to create what is relevant to them, even very complex objects. This could mark a turn away from the standardised model of production that has been with us since the Industrial Revolution.

All these new possibilities, however, come with many serious risks. There have been calls from politicians to introduce governmental regulation of the technology to restrict access to dangerous designs and prevent the creation of dangerous objects.

For example, University of Texas student Cody Wilson created a 3D-printed handgun, used it to fire a standard round of ammunition, and released the design online for anyone to access. In response, New York Senator Charles Schumer called for legislation to ban the printing of 3D guns. Given the string of mass shootings in the US in recent years, the technology should be raising alarm bells. Just as US President Barack Obama is pressing for tighter controls of handguns, so efforts should be increased to ban 3D-printed guns.

Yet bans on the production or distribution of 3D guns do not yet exist in any shape or form.

The question, of course, is whether such technology can be regulated. In all likelihood, the answer would be no. As efforts to regulate content on the internet have shown, carrying out such bans effectively is near impossible.

Bills aimed at regulating content on the internet have repeatedly failed to pass in the US Congress after uproar over what many people see as attempts to muzzle free speech. Peer-to-peer torrent sites, where users can freely upload and download copyrighted content, have also eluded proper policing so far.

This world, as Robert Cookson of Financial Times aptly puts its, is "an anarchist's dream and a bureaucrat's nightmare". As individuals gain more control, authorities lose more of theirs.

Yet despite the dangers of such new technology, we should celebrate the even greater opportunities they present.

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