3D Printing: Technology’s Next Double-Edged Sword
by Rupert Pumpkin on February 9, 2015 - 5:00pm
In today’s modern society, most consumer products are produced in factories located in foreign countries like China. But what if I were to tell you that now you could produce the same products in the comfort of your own home. 3D printing is an additive process in which an object is created from a digital file by laying down layers of material until the entire object is created (“3D Printing”). 3D printing has revolutionized the manufacturing industry by allowing the average consumer to produce fully customizable products using 3D modeling programs. However, in recent years, developments in 3D printing has opened up new possibilities in various fields and consequently led to many ethical concerns. The ethical dilemma I choose to explore is the morality of further developing 3D printers by scientists and engineers. I will be exploring this dilemma from a teleological, utilitarian perspective “whose aim [is] to bring the greatest happiness (or pleasure) to the greatest number” (Merril, 11).
One of the biggest concerns regarding 3D printing is the potential for personal manufacturing of copyrighted objects and thus violating the Intellectual Property (IP) laws. The National Crime Prevention Council estimates that the U.S economy alone loses 58 billion dollars due to copyright infringements each year (“Intellectual Property Theft: Get Real”). Therefore, if we accept that IP laws have and will always be broken due to the illegal reproduction and/or distribution of music, movies, clothing, electronics etc. then it would seem inevitable that further developing 3D printers would not pose a threat to the constantly infringed IP laws. Likewise, from a utilitarian perspective, further developing 3D printers would allow the middle-class or majority population to produce fully customizable products at a fraction of the current costs.
Another major concern regarding 3D printing is the possibility for personal manufacturing of illegal weapons such as virtually undetectable plastic guns or high capacity magazines. However, some people would argue that the cost of purchasing a 3D printer far outweighs the cost of a traditional handgun. Furthermore, in certain countries and states such as California, although firearms are legal, high capacity magazines are prohibited (“Gun Laws in the United States by state”). However, in the case of California laws regarding high capacity magazines, these items are easily and legally obtained in neighboring states such as Nevada (“Gun Laws in the United States by state”). As you can see, there are many ways a 3D printer could be used to facilitate harmful behavior however they can also be used to save lives.
In the biomedical field of study, 3D printers are being used to grow artificial organs such as kidneys, pancreases and lungs. For instance, “in 2013, researchers in China were able to print a small working kidney that lasted four months using a Regenovo bio printer” (Russon). From a utilitarian point of view further developing 3D printers would have the potential to accelerate the process of receiving an organ transplant and improve the quality of life for mankind.
In conclusion, from a teleological perspective, I believe that it is morally right for scientists and engineers to continue developing 3D printers because the advantages far outweigh the risks. I believe this is the correct solution to this ethical dilemma because whether or not 3D printers exist in 5 years; copyright laws will still be broken and people who are determined to harm others will still find ways to do so.
n.p. “What is 3D printing?” 3D Printing. Genesis Framework, n.d. Web. 9 Feb. 2015.
Merril, John C. Overview: Theoretical Foundations for Media Ethics. New York: Routledge, 2011. Print.
n.p. “Intellectual Property Theft: Get Real.” National Crime Prevention Council. NCPC, n.d. Web. 9 Feb. 2015.
n.p. “Gun Laws in the United States by state.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. 2 Feb. 2015. Web. 9 Feb. 2015.
Russon, Mary-Ann. “3D Printers Could be Banned by 2016 for Bioprinting Human Organs”. International Business Times. IBTimes Co. 29 Jan. 2014. Web. 9 Feb. 2015.