Those of us who follow the 3D printing space can envision the likely near future:
- Bigger build chambers
- Different, more functional materials (did we say Metal?)
- Faster printing operations
- Better resolution
- Lower costs
- Greater public awareness
- More 3D print service bureaus
- Vast libraries of 3D models
But what happens after that? In an provocative post, the Foresight Institute talks of Nanofactories, part of a series of very interesting discussions on the topic. What is a nanofactory? K. Eric Drexler says it's a "proposed device able to guide chemical reactions by positioning reactive molecules with atomic precision." In other words, a 3D printer with the ultimate resolution: atoms.
Fundamentally, the process of nanoprinting would be somewhat similar to today's 3D printers: the accurate positioning of some print media. In the nanofactory's case, that media is atoms.
The post suggests that increasingly complex nanofactories could be created by using each iteration to construct an even more complex iteration. Eventually, you'd have a highly capable nanofactory of complexity similar to $100 million dollar factories of today. But then, they say:
you’re within a month of replacing the entire infrastructure of the Earth, every last farmer’s hut and the plants and animals grown for food as well as the cars, trucks, roads, and cities, with one vast, integrated machine. Luxury apartment, robot servants, personal aircraft, you name it, for everyone (and all still a tiny fraction of the capabilities of the overall machine). Ask for anything, and it will simply ooze out of the nearest wall, which will of course be a solid slab of productive nanomachinery (or Utility Fog). To recycle anything, just drop it on the floor.
The notion of a separate countertop factory in this world seems quaint.
We think even the notion of money would be quaint in such a world. But someday it may be our world.