How will it take to get from this
The conditions of physical production have, in fact, experienced a transformation almost as great as that which digital technology has brought about on immaterial production. The “physical production sphere” itself has become far less capital-intensive. If the digital revolution has caused an implosion in the physical capital outlays required for the information industries, the revolution in garage and desktop production tools promises an analogous effect almost as great on many kinds of manufacturing. The radical reduction in the cost of machinery required for many kinds of manufacturing has eroded Stallman’s distinction between “free speech” and “free beer.” Or as Chris Anderson put it, “Atoms would like to be free, too, but they’re not so pushy about it.” (Kevin Carson, The Homebrew Industrial Revolution, 220)
Soon, no doubt, there will be a 3D printer in every home and social robots may well be providing the vigilant company to the elderly who live alone. The present machines,” wrote Samuel Butler in The Book of Machines, “are to the future as the early Saurians to man. The largest of them will probably greatly diminish in size. Some of the lowest vertebrate attained a much greater bulk than has descended to their more highly organised living representatives, and in like manner a diminution in the size of machines has often attended their development and progress.” Technology is plotting its own evolution and the purely human advantage is becoming increasingly small. New fusions and adaptions between the organic and the near organic continue. Silicon, once sand, the second most common element built into the earth’s crust, carries deep with in it an ironic reminder of our own amphibious evolutionary past. Our roots, as cybernetic organisms, come from the same source. Though we are often blind to the machines that surround us – technology is the ocean within which we swim – these exchanges and interactions fuel us. As evolutionary beings, we are willing participants, hungry to transform.
In Shenzhen companies, factories and markets are adjusting to the new products and modes of manufacturing that they bring. A realization is dawning. The age of the copy is over. It is time to mutate. (Anna Greenspan and Suzanne Livingston, Future Mutation: Technology, Shanzai, and the Evolution of the Species)
Old Nick chimes in to fill some gaps and provide some speculation on the height on this tendency: the convergence of miniaturizing manufacturing technology towards a “self-replicating symbiotically assembled Universal Constructor“.
In the more short term, Dubai is several years into an initiative to make itself into the world’s preeminent 3-D printing hub, which has already seen the launch of a 3-D printing factory, the construction of a 2700 square-foot 3-D printed office building, and ambitious plans to 3-D print some 25% of its building construction by 2030. Meanwhile, the US’s Department of Defense Subcommittee on Emerging Threats allocated $13.2 billion of the $639.1 billion for investments in 3-D printing technology, aiming to begin the process of bringing usage of the printers up to “tactical level”. On cue, fears have begun to circulate that (alleged) already-occurring usage of 3-D printers by terrorist organizations will have radical implications for future battlespaces.