Over the last few years, 3D printers have come a long way from the expensive industrial systems we saw in sci-fi movies. They’ve gone smaller and cheaper and are accessible to the mass. However, this accessibility has caused governments worldwide to raise questions about ethics and safety, leaving many wondering if the ban on 3D printers will happen someday.
3D printers won’t be banned, at least not in the near future. Currently, there’s no solid reason for that. However, many institutions argue that the problem is with the user intent, not the tools. Today, many institutions are exploring 3D printer safety threats and ethical conflicts.
In this article, you’ll learn the five most important things you should know about the 3D printer debate. Let’s get started.
Why Is There a Debate About 3D Printers?
The 3D printer debate started around 2007 when the printers became more affordable. Before then, only science and academic institutions or the extremely wealthy could have access to them. For reference, the first 3D printer would’ve cost around $300,000 when manufacturers initially released it in the 1980s.
There’s a debate about 3D printers today as the equipment has become cheaper and more accessible to the public. More people began to experiment with the technology’s different possibilities, even creating controversial objects, hence concerns from different authorities.
I’ll explain further these controversial objects in the following section.
5 Things To Know About 3D Printers
The following are some of the major controversies surrounding 3D printers:
1. People Can Create Firearms and Ammunition Using 3D Printers
In 2013, a company tried to post blueprints for creating a gun using a 3D printer. Before the US federal government stepped in, online users had downloaded the blueprints over 100,000 times. The government made its case that the distribution of these blueprints violated laws against distributing weapons abroad.
Whether or not that’s true, this issue raises an important question. Will creating and sharing blueprints for 3D printing firearms be a threat to public safety? With the controversy over gun control escalating in the last few years, this thought is at the forefront of every argument about banning 3D printing.
Many opponents of 3D printing guns argue that 3D printed guns should be considered illegal under the Undetectable Firearms Act. However, the opposing argument points out that personally crafted guns must have a certain amount of detectable metal included in them. Furthermore, people have been designing personal guns for years; 3D printing provides a different way to indulge in this hobby.
2. Printing Living Human Cells and Tissues May Be Unethical
With the advent of advanced technology, scientists are pushing the boundaries of science and have now developed ways to print living tissue using 3D printers. They hope that someday this advancement can provide organic limbs and replacement organs for human beings.
While this sounds like a positive development, it may also lead to ethical questions. People who can freely craft body parts and organs can also abuse that technology. There are many stories about people selling human limbs and organs on the black market.
Ethically, should every human have the ability to create their body parts using personal 3D printers? Could this development potentially be exploited or perverted? Questions like these lead experts to wonder if 3D printing should be banned to regulate better how we use this technology.
3. Drug and Medication 3D Printing May Cause More Drug Problems
Drugs and medications require time and resources to produce. However, it may be possible to create drugs using 3D printing with suitable materials. Here, we again run into the problem of regulation.
The war on drugs has been a constant focus in the minds of world governments for years. That concern has only increased with the opioid epidemic. Officials are on edge, and the discussion about printing drugs using 3D printers doesn’t help.
Humans have been manufacturing their versions of drugs and illicit medications for years. Food and Drug administrators and government officials are concerned about providing another way for people to abuse and sell illegal drugs.
4. Some People May Abuse 3D Printers To Harm Others
Inventors didn’t create 3D printers to construct objects of harm. Most owners use their 3D printers to create models, figurines, tools, and jewelry. Manufacturers crafted 3D printers with the intent to benefit the community, not hurt it.
The primary argument against banning 3D printers is the understanding that there’s a difference between the user and their tool. A construction worker can use a hammer to build a home or vandalize a car. The hammer isn’t the problem; the user’s intention is what matters.
Another argument in the United States involves the first amendment right to free speech. The freedom to share information and express oneself is why many people can post blueprints without getting into too much trouble.
5. There’s a Legal Challenge Regarding 3D Printers
Legally there’s no accountability for how owners should use their 3D printers. There are specific laws that authorities can use to regulate how people use their printers. However, much of the new technology doesn’t have a legal clause addressing it directly.
For example, the Undetectable Firearms Act introduced in the US in 1988 doesn’t address weapons or firearms crafted by 3D printers. Nor has any governing body conducted a deep exploration into these possibilities. Authorities need to complete a detailed investigation before banning any use of 3D printers.
There’s a clear legal line regarding using any object to commit murder or another crime. However, officials are still questioning the production and distribution of objects that people could abuse for such a purpose.
3D printers are a powerful and valuable scientific advancement and won’t probably be banned anytime soon. Should regulation increase on controversial issues like firearms and drugs, there may be a subsequent increase in regulation on how 3D printers are used.
The following address some of the concerns regarding 3D printers:
- The regulation of firearms and ammunition
- The ethical decisions surrounding the construction of artificial cells and tissue
- Society’s use and abuse of drugs and medication
How the government and society choose to view these controversial topics may signal if/when authorities will ever ban 3D printers.