3D Fantasies

Like computers and the Internet, as 3D printing grows from a novelty into something useful, it will transform business and behavior around the world and across industries. In the long run, it will allow more efficient use of physical resources and faster diffusion of the best designs, boosting living standards around the world.

NEW YORK – How will 3D printing change the world? Today, you can read about jewelry and custom can openers, much as three decades ago you could have read that the personal computer would enable people to keep their recipes organized. Of course, PCs became much more useful than that. Many entrepreneurs and small businesspeople can now run their entire operations on a computer, and people keep their recipes not only organized, but also online. They also track their workouts, monitor their babies, and amass huge collections of digital friends (for better or worse).

The Internet changed the balance of power between individuals and institutions. It enabled millions of people to have jobs without having bosses. Instead, they have agents – such as TaskRabbit or Amazon Web Services or Uber – who match providers and customers.

I think we will see a similar story with 3D printing, as it grows from a novelty into something useful and disruptive – and sufficiently cheap and widespread to be used for (relatively) frivolous endeavors as well. We will print not just children’s playthings, but also human prostheses – bones and even lungs and livers – and ultimately much machinery, including new 3D printers.

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