Friday, May 10, 2013

The Clock Is Ticking

In prior posts, I've discussed the hopes, dreams, and innovations going on in the world of 3-D printing and how it won't be long before such functionality becomes widespread. Today, some of the desktop devices are still a bit expensive and the designs available for download are limited. That's changing on a daily basis and I don't think it will be long before prices drop and 3-D desktop printers start appearing in homes everywhere.

So when I saw this article hit news sites today, I wasn't surprised. The design in question is produced on a higher-end printer, but it highlights some interesting dilemmas that are on the near horizon in terms of technology.

It's one thing to exchange information on a website. The complexity increases when money is exchanged with a commerce site such as Amazon or Walmart and products are shipped to your house or place of business. Now we are moving into an era where information (or designs) can be exchanged online but the product can be manufactured in your own home with the right equipment.

It's probable that such a disruptive technology will force laws to be rewritten, cause licensing systems to be developed, and that controls will be put in place to stop or slow down the exchange of risky designs. Where it gets really dicey is when users will take existing designs, modify them, and build new creations that could have unpredictable consequences. For example, imagine instead of driving to the auto parts store you could download the design of brake pads for your car online, fire up the 3-D printer, and make the new parts in your living room. That would work as long as you stuck with the initial design and did not try to modify it somehow and know how to put the brake pads on your vehicle.

I'm not concerned about toys or things like make-your-own action figures (although I could see Marvel having a licensing fit if users start modifying designs of their action figures). Where it gets to be a slippery slope is when it comes to sharing corporate design secrets or items like the one mentioned in the article above. Although the design in the article was taken offline, over 100K downloads occurred in a two day period. No doubt the design will reappear somewhere else soon, and like an album leak at a certain point it becomes unmanageable to try to shut down every instance of it.

The next objective then becomes one of controlling the consequences...but that is difficult at best because it seems to be a learning curve for everyone involved as the upheaval in the music industry over the past decade has shown us. Where this will lead is anyone's guess, but it should make many people think twice about what possible impact their creations may have before they upload their designs online.

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