June 1, 2016

Guns, Limbs, and Toys: What Future for 3D Printing?

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We stand on the cusp of the next great industrial revolution thanks to technological innovations and developments that could significantly enhance the welfare of people across the world. Inventions previously seen only in science fiction, such as artificial intelligence, connected devices and 3D printing, will enable us to connect and invent in ways we never have before, notes a recent World Economic Forum report on the amazing technological revolutions that could be coming.

This Article will focus on how one of those modern inventions 3D printing could offer the public significant benefits, but not without some serious economic, social, and legal disruptions along the way. We begin in Part I by explaining what 3D printing is and how it works. We also discuss specific applications of this technology and its potential benefits. In Part II, we turn to the policy frameworks that could govern 3D printing technologies and itemize a few of the major public policy issues that are either already being discussed, or which could become pertinent in the future. Then, in Part III, we offer some general guidance for policymakers who might be pondering the governance of 3D printing technologies going forward. Finally, we suggest making the default policy position for 3D printing permissionless innovation. This is the notion that innovation should generally be allowed without prior restraint, and that problems, if they develop at all, are better dealt with in an ex post fashion. Contrary to the many other articles and position papers previously penned about 3D printing policy, which only selectively defend permissionless innovation in narrow circumstances, we endorse it as the default rule across all categories of 3D printing applications.