Despite the fact that I consider the prevailing majority of Facebook posts to be the single largest culprit of wasted broadband, I do hold a certain amount of awe for the internet. Shortly after Al Gore invented the technology, the instantaneous exchange of information became a global phenomenon. (Although, those early dial ups can hardly be considered “instantaneous.”) The internet might be, in most cases, the last beacon of relative freedom. Ideas can be spread, information disseminated, and cute kitten pictures shared… All with a simple click of a wireless mouse. While there is an amazing amount of debauchery and misinformation on the world-wide-interwebs, it still stands as a relatively unrestricted, lightly regulated and highly accessible wealth of opportunity.
Apparently, a 20-something year old in Texas felt the same I way I did a few years ago; but, unlike myself, he actually had the brains to contribute to the world of technological wonder. Feeling that the free exchange of ideas might be used as a contagion of freedom for other aspects of civilized society, he set about to create a firearm that one could “print” using any internet connection and a 3D printer. Setting up a non-profit (so that his information could be legally shared world-wide) Cody Wilson – a law student at Austin University – created a digital file that is capable of “printing” a fully operational plastic firearm.
Needless to say, governments around the world immediately entered panic mode. Ignoring the fact that a PVC pipe, some rubber cement and a handful of other items typically found at any local hardware store could create a gun of equal quality, authorities set about laws and restrictions to ban the files. Politicians sprang to action over concerns that terrorists would print the guns to take on planes (I wonder what kind of ammo you could sneak past the TSA metal detectors), or street thugs printing out their own history-free weapon (with their $20,000 3D printer). Even the US State Department got involved, by ordering that the information be taken off the internet. But, alas, too many files had already been downloaded. The information is now out there. . . Floating somewhere in the vast web of Facebook posts, YouTube videos, and Drudge Report links.
Ironically, however, the free market may have a solution that no government entity has yet been capable of conceiving. A new Danish company claims to have built software that would prohibit the printing of such weapons. The technology identifies “patterns” used in the printing of a gun, and shuts down the process before it is complete. While the software is far from perfected, it is a step closer than any ban, rule, or Mayor-Bloomberg-sponsored-legislation could ever hope to get.
And, such is the balance of the free market. For every freely produced product or concept there is sure to be a counterpart. Consider it the Newton’s law of economics. As consumers are exposed to a product, or a concept, there is bound to be another product or concept ready to cater to an untouched market. The Danish company saw, quite clearly, that there would be a place to profit off of successfully stemming the availability of these printable guns.
According to the CEO of Create It Real, Jeremie Pierre Gay, his software was designed mostly as a tool to reduce the liability of the printer’s manufacturer. (Only in our lawsuit happy culture would a printer manufacturer be held responsible for the user’s actions.) Unfortunately, this software will most likely be used by governments to restrict the rights of their people. Currently the software can be worked-around, much like anti-piracy software, and is far from foolproof. There is little doubt, however, that his software (or at least his concept) will creep its way into the web of already complicated regulations on 3D printers. How long, do you suppose, until printers are mandated to be sold with “anti-gun” software?
The most dangerous part of this episodic venture into printable weapons is not the firearm that could be printed on a (mind boggling) 3D printer. . . But the idea that nations are OK with outlawing an idea. Cody Wilson’s printable gun is not a weapon in-and-of itself. It is an idea. It is a schematic. It is a notion, or a concept. And yet, we (in the governmental sense) have deemed his idea to be potentially dangerous. Are we seriously considering that government entities should outlaw dangerous ideas?
The single greatest measure of Liberty is the free exchange of information. Without the right to assemble, discuss, and inform a society is enslaved by the authority’s standards of “acceptable” information. What has propelled the Internet into our daily lives is not simply its ease of use (remember those dial up things?) or its vast trove of information. The Internet has intertwined itself with the fabric of our daily lives because of its intrinsic ability to remain relatively free of government intrusion. It remains something that government cannot tax, regulate or restrict to any effective degree. Even in oppressive nations such as Iran, Syria and Libya, the ability to tweet, Facebook, and google made organization possible for the masses. (After all, I’m sure there’s a reason oppressive nations like China continually try to censor the web.)
The 3D guns that Wilson devised do not represent the danger of technology. Rather it represents the inescapable liberty of the web. Cody Wilson’s plans for a 3D printable gun may or may not be a good idea, but it does represent the concept of freedom.
Also, I now feel like I need a 3D printer.