Will you still have a job?
3D printing is what is referred to as a disruptive technology—that is, one that will substantially alter the way something else works. We’ve seen new technologies enter our economy many times throughout history, and even while they were substantially improving things for most people, they were also responsible for ending careers and making entire industries obsolete.
For example, in the Netherlands in the 15th century, industrialization allowed for the invention of the textile loom. This was a steam or water powered machine that manufactured cloth of much higher quality and consistency than hand-weavers could manage. There is a story that accompanies that invention that may have a grain of truth in it.
Workers who were being displaced may have tried to destroy the new powered loom’s massive wooden armatures and mechanisms to preserve their jobs. It is said they threw their wooden shoes, called sabot, into the workings of the machines, and this may be part of the origin of the word sabotage.
Similarly, blacksmithing, as a profession, is now artisanal, expensive, and customized. Most wrought iron railings on houses are machine-made, not custom work from an artist.
The International Space Station has had a 3D printer onboard since 2014. Here, astronaut Butch Wilmore holds a ratchet wrench they printed.
Instead of needing a particular tool to be manufactured on Earth and then (months later) shipped up to the space station, now we can send a Physible. Physibles are the instructions for a 3D printer to create a specific object consisting solely of data. They’ve made many useful parts including pieces to repair antennas, hold sensor probes, and more.
Currently, they are successfully testing grinding up objects they have already made and recycling them into new filament to create brand new objects. This will be essential on a long journey to Mars, or even daily life in a Moon colony…
We have different technologies for different substances. Plastic filaments are the most common, and nearly everybody is quite familiar with them. We can use it to print innumerable objects for actual use, or as art. We’ve gone beyond simple plastics, though.
Now we can print in resins, wood, metal, concrete, chocolate, carbon fiber, and even biological materials. If you can dream it up, we can find a way to print it.
Resin printers use resins that cure upon exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. In one incarnation, a UV laser strikes a clear-bottomed container, passing through a layer of liquid resin and solidifying the material against a working surface which is slowly withdrawn from the bulk resin as the work is built up in many small successive layers. This is the slower process requiring perhaps eight seconds per layer, depending on the object complexity.
An alternate method is to use an intervening LCD panel, which alternately hides and reveals the entire “layer” image at once as created by a UV projector from beneath. This can reduce exposure time to 1.5 seconds per layer, making the process much faster.
It’s not pure wood, of course—at least not yet. Wood fibers are held in a plastic matrix, and it gives the appearance of wood in the final product. This area still needs development, but it is improving.
Currently, we’re printing metal engine parts for racing cars (since this is still a very expensive process) and rocket engines, that are lighter and up to three times stronger than traditionally manufactured materials using steel, stainless, Inconel, copper, or whatever is required.
Normal metal printing resulted in relatively weak materials, but modern advances now allow us to print “grain” or “structure” in metals, making them stronger than ever before. The lining for rocket nozzles must be durable because multi-million-dollar satellites, or even human lives, depend on them being so.
A company in China (WinSun) is printing houses out of concrete and construction waste where 10 entire homes can be manufactured in a day. Yes, they’re small because current Chinese regulations do not permit multi-story homes to be printed, but they only cost $5,000. In many cases, they are for people that don’t necessarily have homes, and who are delighted to have shelter.
In North America, you can buy a 3D printed home with 1,900 square feet of living area for $300,000 or about half of the traditional cost. This one provides three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and all the accoutrements of a new home—and it will change home ownership forever.
You can go online and order custom 3D printed athletic shoes from companies like Fused, or Adidas, or innumerable other bespoke products that won’t fit anyone but you. Danit Peleg is already working on printing high-fashion clothing with contemporary 3D printers with an eye to making it a common at-home activity for everyone.
We are now in a transition period for food, too. There are many organizations that are 3D printing vegetarian “meat” in an effort to combat global warming. Ostensibly, global warming is impacted quite heavily by the meat industry, so getting around that by reducing human activity in this area could be better for the planet.
Others are not satisfied with the vegan options, and want real meat. To satisfy this urge, laboratories have already grown pure synthetic meat in the lab. In 2015 we grew an entire rat leg from a couple of starter cells and some stem cells. It had skin, bones, nerves, blood vessels and could theoretically have been attached to see if it was functional, but that wasn’t part of the experiment design.
It made it clear, however, that we can grow meat that would be entirely undifferentiated from “real” meat, and it was fairly easy. The first beef “meat” cells were created as a bio-ink, capable of going through a 3D printer, and the first hamburger patty was printed (albeit at a total cost of $330,000) in 2013.
It was pure muscle fibers, with no fat cells, and it was big enough for six people to taste it after it was cooked. They reported the texture was quite chewable, though the flavor somewhat lacking. This was attributed to the complete lack of fat—humans don’t like that. Modern excursions into this area of research are making sure there is a proper proportion of fat, and success has been growing.
Other experiments have successfully produced fish, chicken, and duck. There are other things beyond meat, however, and it has become rather popular for chefs in high-end restaurants to produce entire meals, or simply focus on desserts made of chocolate or solid sugar.
Advances in materials sciences have allowed charitable organizations to 3D print prosthetic limbs for children from carbon fiber. They are fast, relatively inexpensive, and now, with Physibles online, you can print them at home, adjusting the size, as your child grows. There are even glove like appliances to replace just missing fingers for people who have lost some digits.
Now, instead of using inks, plastics, or other substances, we are starting to print with biomaterials and living cells because these sophisticated bioprinting units can print with six different materials simultaneously. Hospitals can now print skin based on the burn victim’s own DNA, meaning they can help patients heal faster, and don’t need to use cadaver skin until their own skin grows back.
We’re also printing mini-organs like tiny human hearts that can be used to expand our understanding of complex systems, and for testing the effects of drugs. Previously the timeline was 25 years until custom made human replacement hearts, livers, or kidneys would be available, but now scientists are predicting as soon as 10 years in the finest, most modern hospitals…
So, you want to get in on this? 3D printers are becoming ubiquitous, and makers all over the world are starting to create art or useful devices in their own home. There are now inventories of free Physibles online, and there are many more bespoke designs that are for sale for higher-end items.
You may have already realized this during your reading; there is a big change on the horizon because we’re on the road to everyone having something like a Star Trek Replicator in their home. Do you go to Home Hardware and buy a hammer, or print one on your household 3D printer? Do you go to Walmart and buy a new lampshade, or print it yourself?
We’ve been concerned that automation will take away our jobs in the future, but what happens when there is almost no need for manufacturing? What happens when there is no need for things to be delivered? What happens when you can print dinner (raw, or cooked, ready to be heated), and can fulfill just about all your needs without leaving the house?
We don’t worry about the availability of oxygen for the most part. It’s there and we have enough of it—we’re already post-scarcity for oxygen. In the developed world we’re seldom short of clean water, either, so we don’t worry about that.
What if we could print whatever we needed? Food, tools, jewelry, art, televisions, shelving units, curtains, carpets… And for our neighbors that don’t have a 3D printer yet? We could print them a 3D printer…
That is going to make a lot of jobs pointless in the future, like manufacturing, sales, even airline pilots eventually (since modern planes almost fly themselves already) or surgeons, as the robots we currently use to perform microsurgeries acquire AI skills and become “better than human”… We’ll still need high tech producers that make computer chips, for example, because that may remain beyond the reach of 3D printers for a while. The jobs that will remain will be personal service jobs such as artists, tour guides, physical fitness trainers, entertainers, actors…
People that maintain infrastructure will be lauded, too, because water purification, sewer maintenance, electricity generation, natural gas provisioning, internet communication services, and even road maintenance will still be necessary. Maybe one job will be split among ten different people so that more can share the status of “being employed” …
Plus, there will be a very special group of people that society will rely quite heavily on—the ones that supply all the raw materials for the 3D printers. Whatever can’t be automated right away, such as mining, forestry, and other professions related to raw materials, will become the highest status jobs.
What happens to the rest of us? With no jobs other than the ones we create for ourselves we’ll probably turn to creative outlets that please us. Money probably won’t be very useful since there is little need to purchase anything. Government’s new role might simply be to assure that everyone has access and sufficient supplies to run their 3D printers.
Of course, people probably wouldn’t be anxious to give up on the idea of money right away since we’re so used to it. The possibility exists that for people to feel like they have control and make decisions, the government might very well decide to pay everyone a monthly stipend so they can “pay” for their printer materials. They could then buy land and have a house built; they could go out to an artisanal restaurant and have someone prepare dinner for them; they could go and see a show.
Ultimately, when folks aren’t obliged to do anything, they’ll do things that they truly want to do. Scientists will research and discover new things; artists will paint and carve and sculpt; singers will sing; programmers will develop new games for people to play…
It is hard to predict what will happen when society is turned on its head like this. At the end of the day, if you’re doing what you want to do, there is no need for “pay”; if you get respect or admiration, or just pleasure from it, that is reward enough when all your other needs are fulfilled.
If everyone can have a 3D printer, is there any need to invade another country and take what they have? You could just make whatever you desire for yourself. War would be boring and pointless. We won’t need physical schools either—online schools are common now, and you can already take certificate-granting university courses online for free from major institutions like Harvard, or numerous others, if knowledge is what you seek.
People wonder what the world would be like if they had no physical wants or needs. Would we stay in our homes, eating endlessly, corpulent and naked all day, playing video games—or would we develop a real, powerful, and useful space program so we could still have some challenges in our lives—so we could get out there and explore the cosmos? By the looks of things, we’re about to find out sometime in the next couple of decades.
What is that old expression? The meek shall inherit the Earth…the rest of us are going to the stars!
Disclaimer: The author of this text, Jean Chalopin, is a global business leader with a background encompassing banking, biotech, and entertainment. Mr. Chalopin is Chairman of Deltec International Group, www.deltecbank.com.
The co-author of this text, Robin Trehan, has a Bachelor’s degree in Economics, a Master’s in International Business and Finance, and an MBA in Electronic Business. Mr. Trehan is a Senior VP at Deltec International Group, www.deltecbank.com.
The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this text are solely the views of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect those of Deltec International Group, its subsidiaries, and/or its employees.
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