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Image courtesy of PTI

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [Image: PTI]

It’s the classic super-technology dilemma. What happens when 3D printing falls into the wrong hands? In a speech given to the UN Security Council on Tuesday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon voiced his concern that humans the world over are not properly prepared to deal with the potential dangers currently present. In addition to the standard trio of chemical, nuclear, and biological threats, Ban advised that more attention needs to be paid to destruction made possible through advanced emerging technologies:

“Information and communication technologies, artificial intelligence, 3D printing and synthetic biology have the potential [for] massive destruction. The nexus between these emerging technologies and WMD [Weapons of Mass Destruction] needs close examination and action. People now live a significant portion of their lives online. They must be protected from online attacks, just as effectively as they are protected from physical attacks.”

The contribution made by 3D printing to this morass of fearful possibilities is the opportunity provided for terrorist groups to simply make things they are unable to procure by other means. We’ve already seen the way that guns can be printed, most famously the Liberator created by Cody Wilson. The files for that particular gun were available freely and by the time he was ordered to remove the files from the internet, they had already been downloaded more than 100,000 times. Wilson is also working on a low-cost machine gun.

If there is one thing that brings the 3D printing community together (before fragmenting it again on virulently passionate reddit forums) it is the inability to leave well enough alone. 3D printers are tinkerers, interested in knowledge for its own sake. It’s a wonderful trait, but it also means that they are actively contributing to what the average person can know…and what if that average person is…EVIL??

gun-featIt’s not just 3D printed guns that are raising the alarm, there is also concern that the technology could be used to allow for the quick and easy creation of drones that could then be used to attack nuclear facilities or chemical storage sites. Basically, 3D printing unlocks access to nearly anything. Just a quick scan through 3D print news reveals that there is very little that can’t be made using the technology.

So what do we do? Well, that’s part of the problem in a democracy. The knowledge democracy of open source 3D printing is a beautiful thing, the dispersed nature of the information available and the individual ground level access to the technology necessary for creation means that policing it would not only be a bad idea, it would be impossible. Ban Ki-Moon didn’t pretend to have any easy answers during the Security Council meeting. Instead, he voiced the first official international call to recognize the issue. His idea is that it is necessary to develop steps to reduce the risks rather than to wait until a crisis has already presented itself and then figure out how to clean it up.

[Image: Sputnik/Iliya Pitalev]

[Image: Sputnik/Iliya Pitalev]

We live in a time that is paradoxically incredibly dangerous and yet safer than ever. The key is to not throw the baby out with the bathwater and not to let fear be the sole driver of our actions. Anything can fall into the wrong hands, but the number of wonderful things that are happening as a result of 3D printing far outweigh these risks. That doesn’t mean we don’t prepare, it just means that we shouldn’t strangle the opportunities. And, more importantly, maybe a plan to limit the number of ‘wrong hands’ might be more effective than stifling the magic in the right ones. Discuss further over in the Dangers of 3D Printing forum at 3DPB.com.

[Source: Business Standard]
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