The promise of 3-D printing

I’ve been writing this week about the ideas of Ray Kurzweil and other futurists, including how humans and computers will merge in the not-too-distant future and how the Kurzweil trinity of genetic engineering, nanotechnology and robotics offers the possibility of immortality in as little as 35 years.

Today, I’ll shift gears just a bit to talk about 3-D printing, which again sounds like the stuff of science fiction but is in fact already available today. (See the video above. If you’re getting this via email, click on the headline, and it will take you to the website containing the video.)

Here’s what the Aug. 5 Kiplinger Letter has to say about 3-D printers:

3-D printers will soon become ubiquitous in the business world, spurred by faster speeds and price reductions that have some new units hitting the market for about $700. The devices can create scale models from product specs, printing them layer by layer in plastic or a similar material.

Lots of uses: Clarks and Timberland develop new footwear with them. Symmons Industries uses them to render designs for custom bathroom fixtures.

Kurzweil and others are looking beyond today’s 3-D printers, of course. They believe this technology will morph into something far more powerful, eventually being able to “print” food, clothing and all we need for a satisfying life. Through nanotechnology, they believe we will learn to manipulate matter at the molecular level and make anything we desire at little cost. Futurist Michio Kaku says this will give us the power of God himself to create something from nothing (or almost nothing).

If you’re skeptical that we’ll have the energy to drive all the technology Kurzweil envisions, he says don’t be. We’re only 16 years away from having enough solar energy to power all the world’s energy needs.

As I’ve said all week, it would be foolish to say these things will never happen. Kurzweil, Kaku and others believe they’re possible, and their track records for prediction are good.

The future is coming at us at exponential speed, Kurzweil says, and civilization-changing technologies will be here more quickly than most of us anticipate. I think you need to be thinking about how you’ll react and adapt. What do you think?

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