Feb 12 2012

There Are Big Differences Between 3d Printing & VR

""){ ?> By Valkyrie Ice


Recently, Christoper Mims over at Technology Review wrote a piece and noted that he used the opening graphic from my H+ article (Adding Our Way to Abundance) which makes me wonder if he’s directing this article at me about how he is sure that 3d printing will go the way that VR did back in the 90’s, essentially overhyped, then ignored for over a decade.

He’s been rebutted by another writer at Technology Review but there are a few aspects I’d like to focus on in specific:

There are big differences between VR and 3d printing:

1: VR was a “hyped” at a stage where the computer technology simply wasn’t there to support the claims. I was laughing at the rather ridiculous claims being thrown around at the time, because the processing power, bandwidth, and display technology simply didn’t exist to support the hype. While 3d printing is also not completely to the point I describe above, we are far closer to that level than VR was during its initial hype phase. Also, the first “hype phase” for 3d printing occurred ten years ago, it just didn’t reach the same levels that VR did. I have been watching it move from that initial stage to practical application in prototype manufacturing, and it is now in its second hype phase as it is moving from prototype to production level. The reason this initial hype phase never reached the same level is because it was just another victim of the “tech bubble” that burst following 9/11 when every technology company suddenly had to face new “security” measures, and the costs associated with them. They’ve already had their “disinterest” phase and are now emerging into the secondary cycle with practical applications in the immediate present.

2: VR was “hyped” before there was a “high level” demand for it. 3d printing has extremely practical uses, outlined in my article linked above, which makes it a priority for those at the top of the economy. Unlike VR, 3d printing offers enormous benefits to the highest tiers of society, and this is focusing massive pressure on its development. The mutation of the electronics companies from “primary manufacturers” to “design studios” who develop and prototype designs before using 3rd party manufacturers to produce “branded” products has created a “do or die” evolutionary pressure on these 3rd party manufacturers. In order to meet the demands from the corporations for faster production and faster generational turn around, these companies are having little choice but to research and develop 3d manufacturing, and are aware that any of them that comes in last will be eaten.  If you haven’t noticed, most of the more dramatic “printing” breakthroughs are coming from these manufacturers, and not research labs or American manufacturing.

3: Extrusion and Sintering are merely the stage we are at now. Were there not equally dramatic advances taking place in the metamaterials field, as well as electronic “printing.” graphene production and “printing.” not to mention numerous other micro and nanofabrication advances, all occurring simultaneously, I would be more inclined to agree about the timeline as well. However, based on where we are in development on all these other fronts, and given that they will all impact the methods used to “print” 3d objects, the arguments used in Mr. Mims article show such a short and narrow focus that it seems more like a denial of a reality that it’s author doesn’t like than an argument based on observation of all evidence. It’s basically a “We can’t do it now, so it’s impossible” argument, and I’m sad to say I am not as hopeful as he is about how long it will take to develop 3d printing once all the combined factors come into play.

4: VR had no DIY components, because all the devices needed to “make it happen” were very expensive and almost everything had to be built from scratch. There were no “garage engineers” or “backyard prototypers” because the minimum entry level to play was far out of the reach of everyone who didn’t have either a company or government backing. 3d Printers are already far beyond this stage, while VR still has not reached it.  With the Makerbot, and the REP/RAP project, DIY tinkering with printers is already well underway. And if you read my article on printers linked above, you’ll know that I predict the DIY and Open Source movements will eat centralized manufacturing efforts once 3d printing has saturated the manufacturing fields. As the other article rebutting Mim’s points out, a printer can make a 90% finished product which needs minimal “tweaking” via a small scale machine shop, which makes decentralized “Fab shops” as competitive as the large scale manufacturers. There are already innovative products being made for the market by such “little dogs” as Freedom of Creation.  If the “big dogs” take too long, they will be eaten before they even get off the porch, and they know this.

I’d put more faith in Mims arguments if he had said them ten years ago. But 3d printing is just one part of everything that is occurring that I have researched. By itself, were it the only technology under development, and not under the pressures it’s under to be developed, I would agree with Mr. Mims

Then we, of course, have the flip side of the coin, which is the fact that 3d printers are not limited to manufactured products, but can print biological products as well. As a recent commentor screamed: “and if ‘food’ ever does come from a printer, it won’t be food! It will be processed, toxic muck. Processed food is already the #1 cause of disease in the industrial world.”

The problem with such claims is that it ignores the simple reality that a 3d Organic Printer is not using any of the normal industrial processes that create most of our modern foods. It is merely printing stem cells into a pattern with the needed nutrients to allow those cells to mature and merge to form a complete piece of living tissue. So, if its 100% pure beef tissue, or its 100% pure beef tissue, what does it matter if it came from a cow, or a printer? The tissue is going to be pure cow either way.

Unlike “processed food,” a stem cell printer would use the exact same biological processes to make beef that Bessie does, it merely removes the need to kill Bessie to do so. As I have pointed out repeatedly, a medically viable, functional heart for transplantation is a far more complex task then simple muscle tissue and fat. It’s not a matter of whether or not it is technically possible, that has already been proven. It’s a matter of taking it out of the lab and creating mass production techniques. Studies already exist showing that printing or growing in vitro meats are capable of reducing the costs of production over 90% compared to traditional cattle farming, and produce 90% less waste products.

The UK Guardian reported that a recent study calculates “that cultured meat will have 80-95% lower greenhouse gas emissions, 99″% lower land use and 80-90% lower water use compared to conventionally produced meat in Europe. Every kilo of conventionally produced meat requires 4kg-10kg of feed, whereas cultured meat significantly increases efficiency by using only 2kg of feed. Based on our results, if cultured meat constituted half of all meat consumed we could halve the greenhouse emissions, and increase the forest cover by 50%, which is equivalent to four times of Brazil’s current forest area.

“The measurement of feed for kilogram of meat is for beef.”

Think about that. For the same “cost to produce” meat via traditional cattle farming, we could produce nine times more beef via in vitro and printed meats. In other words, the meat industry could cut the cattle industry out of the picture entirely, make 90% more profits, eliminate any possible source of “diseased meat” and still produce the exact same end product. That’s one hell of an incentive on the part of “the corporations” to fund research into improvements in 3d printing.

Extrapolate that to “hard matter” manufacturing, and the ability to use creative engineering to create products that use 90% less material for the same end product, or even a superior product as 3d printers can create items impossible to manufacture traditionally, and you can see why the push to develop is going to be fast tracked from nearly every angle.

And note, I don’t dispute that “a box in the corner” is many years off. Personal 3d Printers are at least a decade away, as I have also stated previously. But the stages from current capability to the replacement of “production lines” is already underway, and likely to proceed far more rapidly than expected, particularly during the latter half of this decade, and from there, it’s likely to only be a few years to personal fabricators are wide spread. Universal Personal Fabs able to print anything desirable are probably less than two decades down the road, but again, universal adoption will likely take longer, due primarily to the prejudices of those like the commenter I quoted above. However, in the end, those fears will be proven to be unfounded, and caused merely by xenophobia.

Needless to say, 3d printing is not VR, but they are likely to develop hand in hand for the next decade, with innovations in one leading to innovations in the other as we begin the merger of “Physibles” and VR with our “real world.” Mr. Mims is quite welcome to his doubts. I just don’t see reality supporting them.


  • By StupendousMan!, February 14, 2012 @ 9:43 am

    Great response. I do think there needs to be more debate/push back against articles like Christoper Mims’. So what was his goal? Don’t get excited about new technologies and their possible applications? Give up on innovation? It seems people like him, at least in this case, have some other issue(s) they’re dealing with besides the technology in question.
    It reminds me of Bill McKibben’s Enough. He actually advocated using resources to stop most biological technology innovation due to some yet to be defined idea of what a human is. That bio innovation would redefine humanity and that could “only” be for the worse. How many people did he convince? How many people will suffer and/or die from maladies that aren’t cured/solved due to his actions? I didn’t read his whole book but the excerpts I did made me feel ill. He’ happy, healthy, and fairly wealthy. Is a world where a large minority lives in absolute poverty a good stopping point?
    One thing I feel very sure of is that with information technology and the web people like this will have to face fierce criticism in the future.
    If Cory Doctorow’s idea of reputation units as currency, or something similar, becomes reality these articles and types of Luddite ideas will make them impoverished soon enough. I bet then they’ll be crying out for even better technologies to end scarcity.

  • By Chico Chico the Rainmaker, February 14, 2012 @ 2:49 pm

    “Unlike “processed food,” a stem cell printer would use the exact same biological processes to make beef that Bessie does.”

    This is a completely fallacious statement made with no regard to the facts of biology or to even plain, common sense. It is a yet another wish fulfillment statement from the King of Fantasy, Mr. Ice.

    Please, Mr. Ice, take a biology class.

  • By Chico Chico the Rainmaker, February 14, 2012 @ 2:53 pm

    and 2000 light years further from your lack of biological accuracy is your omission of the fundamental facts of agriculture and scale in industrial economics.

  • By maximo ramos, February 25, 2012 @ 4:18 pm

    “Open Source” is a malignant marketing term designed to degrade and obfuscate the relevant and correct original term “Free Software” –

  • By maximo ramos, February 27, 2012 @ 8:04 pm

    Because the terms open source software and free software typically describe the same programs, the two terms are commonly used interchangeably. And it is often said that the difference between the advocates of each of these terms is merely philosophical rather than practical and that the difference between the two terms themselves is mainly a matter of marketing rather than substance.

    However, recent events have emphasized that there is actually a very practical difference between the two concepts. It is that, whereas free software is always also open source, open source software does not necessarily have to be free software. That is, software can be open source without granting its users the additional freedoms that free software guarantees.

    One of the most noteworthy such events was the November 2, 2006 agreement between Microsoft Corporation and Novell, Inc. and the statements by Microsoft that soon followed it. These statements included the comments by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer that his company might sue users of Linux, other than those of Novell’s SUSE Linux, for what he claims are violations of Microsoft’s patents1.

    Were Microsoft to truly have the ability to successfully sue users of Linux for alleged violations of its intellectual property, this would mean that Linux would no longer be free software, because users would not be free to use it in any way that they want without monetary or other restrictions2. However, it would still be open source software, since the source code would be freely available, at least to read and study.

    A different type of situation that illustrates the difference between open source software and free software is tivoization. This term is derived from the product name TiVo, which is essentially a computer that is optimized for recording television shows. TiVo uses a specific version of Linux and makes the source code for that version available as is required by the GNU General Public License (GPL), under which Linux is released and which is by far the most commonly used free software license. Thus TiVo is clearly in compliance with the condition for being open source software.

    However, the system has been designed so that it will not function if the Linux source code has been modified, including updating the kernel (i.e., the core of the operating system) or installing a different version. While also not in violation of the current version of the GPL (GPLv2), it is in violation of the spirit of free software, according to those in the free software movement, as it deprives users of the important freedom to modify their software, including improving and updating it, and to freely use such modified software. Moreover, from a practical point of view, the ability to modify and improve free software has been a critical factor in its rapid improvement in performance and usability.

    There is concern by advocates of free software that much such software could be downgraded to mere open source software in the future if patent restrictions and tivoization become widespread. This could occur because of the strong monopolistic interests that favor patent restrictions and tivoization and in the absence of changes in free software licenses to prohibit such practices3.

    The advocates of open source, however, have not generally considered tivoization to be a problem. It is their view that hardware vendors should have the freedom to do whatever they want with open source software as long as they provide the source code for it and that software licenses should not be used to enforce rules for hardware4.

    The term open source was coined in 1997 or early 1998 as a substitute for the term free software because the latter was thought to imply something that was of inferior quality, and therefore not suitable for corporate use, due to its being available at no monetary cost. It was also seen as a way of avoiding confusion with freeware and shareware.

    Freeware is software that is available at no monetary cost but for which the source code is not made freely available. Shareware is software that is distributed without a charge but whose license requests or requires a fee for use, often after a free trial period. These terms were commonly used in the media by writers who apparently were not aware that there was a major difference between them and free software. Although popular with hobbyists, neither freeware nor shareware implied any level of quality or reliability, and thus were generally not suitable for enterprise use.

    However, the situation has changed in recent years, as freeware and shareware have become less prominent and the stature of free software has risen. The latter is a result of the great success of software packages such as the Apache web server (which now claims to host more than 70 percent of the web sites on the Internet), the Firefox web browser and Linux, and it is also a result of the growing disenchantment with some of the most widely used proprietary (i.e., commercial) software. Thus, the perceived importance of using the term open source rather than free software has diminished.

    Among the proponents of non-commercial software, those emphasizing its advantages for enterprise use tend to favor the term open source, while those placing an equal or greater emphasis on the moral or ideological aspects prefer the term free software. Fortunately, despite this difference, members of both groups can generally agree regarding practical policies and cooperate on specific projects. The notable exception has been the GPLv3, although this may change particularly as a result of Microsoft’s recent threats against Linux.

    Sometimes the terms free/open source software and FOSS are used in an attempt to refer to free software and emphasize that it is free not only in a monetary sense. However, the use of such terms might not be a good idea for several reasons, including that they can be redundant and because they fail to clarify the very important difference between the two concepts. However, it may be just as misleading to use the term open source software when what is really meant is free software.

  • By Valkyrie Ice, March 1, 2012 @ 1:20 pm

    Ummm, Max, while those arguments might work for splitting hairs between types of software, I’m not talking about software, and the open source definitions I AM using are appropriate for the uses I am discussing. In this case the accepted usage of open source as opposed to proprietary, and modifiable by anyone versus unmodifiable and under the control of a single corporation.

  • By maximo ramos, March 1, 2012 @ 7:18 pm

    Once again, you simply don’t know what you are talking about. You don’t have the comprehension or the vocabulary. Your magic boxes sure as HELL aren’t going to work w.o software, now will they, Chuckles?

  • By maximo ramos, March 2, 2012 @ 5:25 am

    let me dumb this down for you : w/o a Free Software model (as opposed to the currently trendy ‘open source’ model which can be tivo-ised and/or controlled from a centralized cloud server) your “post scarcity” world will be 100% dominated by good old Artificial Scarcity from the get go. Does this reach your dim awareness of how software, economics and politics actually _work_ outside of the cyberpunk fiction you base your entire world view on?

  • By Valkyrie Ice, March 2, 2012 @ 5:30 am

    Does the term “fuck off” mean anything to you?

  • By maximo ramos, March 3, 2012 @ 3:38 pm

    I win.

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