British newspapers recently went into a frenzy following reports that police in Manchester had seized a 3D printer and what they suspected were parts for a 3D-printed gun. Those familiar with British newspapers will know that it doesn’t take much to cause such a reaction and in this case it appeared to be misplaced. The parts were likely to be those for a 3D printer, rather than a weapon.
Meanwhile, over in Washington DC, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has warned that plastic, 3D-printed guns “create a public safety concern.” The guns are currently expensive and unreliable – in ATF tests one gun exploded every time it fired a shot – but that hasn’t eased concerns.
A new piece of software from a student at Goldsmiths, University of London, could feed the frenzy still further. The Disarming Corrupter, by Matthew Plummer-Fernandez, encrypts 3D printing blueprints, potentially circumventing blocks on certain types of material. Plummer-Fernandez said: “I was confronting all these taboos showing up in 3D printing around copyrighted material and 3D-printed weapons, and I think these services are leaving their users out to dry. I wanted to think of a way to circumvent these problems.”
There’s a lot of good that can be done with 3D printing, from making replacement bones to revolutionizing manufacturing, but expect to hear a lot about the technology’s scary ramifications in the short term.
A similar warning applies to the flourishing Silicon Valley genetics sector. One day we will all have our genomes sequenced, some scientists believe, which could provide an early warning of serious medical problems and create more opportunities for personalized medicine. However, there is a dark side, just as there is with 3D printing.
Criticisms range from the relatively minor – people might misinterpret the results of a genetic test and panic – to the more serious, such as what happens to your data. Anyone who has ever tried to close a Facebook account might be more than a little wary about revealing their DNA.
Nevertheless, there are benefits to these services and plenty of people are willing to sign up. As a result, the sector is booming. Last week it emerged that Yuri Milner, a Russian entrepreneur, has invested in a biotech start-up called GenapSys, which promises faster, lower cost DNA sequencing. Milner is a high-profile figure who has also put money into Facebook, Twitter and Spotify.
Finally, last month I mentioned that a consortium had agreed to take over BlackBerry, the troubled phone manufacturer. The company has had to weather more bad news this month, with both the US Department of Defense, which runs almost half a million BlackBerry devices, and pharmaceuticals firm Pfizer, with 90,000 employees, planning to ditch the devices. Businesses were once a BlackBerry stronghold, of course, but if even an organization like the Department of Defense is preparing to ditch it, despite the elaborate and time-consuming security procedures it needs to have in place before it will accept any smartphone, then things look bleak indeed.
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Author: Shane Richmond is an author and technology specialist.
Image: A 3D vase is seen in Belgium REUTERS/Yves Herman.