This past weekend, Brown and I went to New York. The main reason for going was a rather spectacular 20th anniversary party, but we had ulterior motives: the Makerbot Store. Thus far, all of the research I’ve been doing for Maker Space has been online, which is nice and all but there’s something lost there, something slightly intangible about hearing about ideas rather than holding the end result. (Plus, Brown is actually trying to cultivate a literal maker space for his university’s library, so for him this was like visiting the Lamborghini dealership with the hope that his employers might let him drive the company car.) We wandered around the store for a while, watching the printers spit out bangle bracelets and crude plastic squirrels. There was a steady stream of store traffic, and most everybody seemed at least slightly knowledgeable about 3D-printer technologies; nobody wandered in off of the street to goggle at the fancy plastic doohickey squeak-machines.
Oh, and let’s throw the bit about the gun out here, just so we’re all on the same page: people have been trying to build 3D-printed guns since this technology was developed, but just this past week, a maker actually got one to work. Guys, this is a big deal with scary implications.
So while Brown’s speaking with various tech-clerks and discussing things like “grants” and “barrier-free printer access for community members, especially low-income minorities”, I’ve cornered a poor young fellow named Tristan and told him I was doing research for a novel where maker technologies were put to ill use. I ended with: “And I heard about the gun.”
“We do not talk about the gun,” Tristan said.
Tristan was very helpful and pointed me towards several maker community websites. Most of these I had poked to some extent, but some were new. Almost all of them featured a link to an article about the gun, which I pointed out to Tristan.
“We do not click on links to the gun,” he said.
This is something I’ve come across throughout the maker community, which is that its members are critically aware of the potential for misuse of their technologies, but they aren’t going to hide away or stop experimenting because of this potential. (It’ll have to be a minor theme in the novel, I think.)
But the main thing I came away with this weekend is that I’m going to have a hard time presenting maker technologies –any maker technologies, not just 3D printing- as realistic. The speed of ingenuity and development is fantastic; guys, they have made an ear. And while most of the lower-level 3D printed products look a lot like pixelated arcade graphics, the higher-end extruder products can potentially exceed the quality of engineered parts. It’s a mad, mad race towards perfection, and if I write about what is happening, it will sound futuristic. If I write about what will probably happen, it will sound insane.