3D Printing: The End of Manual Labor?
Robots and other automated, mechanical beings have been a staple in science-fiction for a very long time, finding their first mentions in the ancient world. At the onset of the 21st century, however, robots became much more than an idea in a sketchbook. Robots are now a very real part of the modern world.
The world of robotics has seen its share of successes and failures (see Roomba and Asimo for examples of each, respectively). Many of the most notable applications of robots can be found on production lines: automotive, furniture, and food, to name a few. That brings us to the topic at hand, 3D printing.
3D printing isn’t, by strict definition, a form of autonomous robot, but the application of the technology is very similar to those listed above. 3D printing has the ability to completely change the world as we know it. Imagine houses, cars, guitars, furniture, or entire body parts printed at exponential rates and for a fraction of the cost. Every field from industry, to medical, to leisure would be altered by mass adoption of 3D printing.
Therein lies a (possible) dilemma.
3D printing has the possibility of putting an already weak job market into further turmoil. Manual human labor would fall to the wayside as a method of accomplishing things from days gone by. Why purchase some do-it-yourself furniture when you can by a 3D printed armchair for less than half of the price at a furniture outlet. This scenario is very possible, and approaching way faster than a hungry Roomba.
I guess my main question is this: where do we draw the line?
We are a society with an astoundingly weak ability to define and maintain boundaries, especially when it comes to quality of life. 3D printing may have the ability at increasing quality of life for many, many people through ease of access and low cost, but what of men and women that earn through manual labor? When do we stop progress from becoming too overbearing?
3D printing isn’t something that seems inherently evil or corrupt. There are many, varied, amazing things that 3D printing can accomplish. The capabilities that are being discovered and put to use, what seems like, every week are absolutely astonishing. But, the risk is large, too. A balance has to be found and consistently enforced between automation and manual, human accomplishment. 3D printing can, and probably will, be one of the greatest human accomplishments of the early 2000s, but it also has the possibility of being a last, fatal, 3D printed straw on the proverbial camel.