In yesterday's post about nanofactories, I described a system that would use pre-built nanoblocks to build products extremely quickly--mere seconds from downloading the blueprint to having the finished product appear.
I was thinking about the effect this would have in the average home. Suddenly, several threads of thought came together (including Jamais's recent column on the apparent boredom with abundance), and I realized that the average user might not use it very much!
In hindsight, I have always been thinking of nanofactory use as being an essentially creative process. You design the product, and think about how the device will build it; and even consumer goods would be customized; and at the very least, the product would be manufactured to solve some problem. I guess I had been approaching a nanofactory from the mindset of a computer programmer or electronic artist with an empty hard disk to fill. (Perhaps this is because I am a computer programmer.)
Of course, I have known about the idea of separating nanoblock manufacture from product assembly for months, ever since Tom Craver suggested it as a way to improve security. But this was the first time I thought about an ordinary consumer using a trivially convenient bit of technology that could make anything they wanted (within the limitations of pre-fabbed nanoblocks) with just a mouse click. This was the first time I thought about this device being integrated into someone's daily life--a device that they didn't have to study in order to use--a device that they could use without thinking about it.
What I realized was how very easy it would be to take such a device for granted. Today, we have inkjet printers that can print high-quality art. At least a few people probably use them for that, and have pictures hanging on their walls that they printed themselves. But even among those people... how many change the pictures every day, or even every week? And how many had any involvement in creating or modifying the images?
So now, suppose it's 2018, and OfficeMax suddenly starts selling a $100, 3D printer device that can extrude anything from a pair of shoes to a new motorcycle. You buy one and take it home. What do you do with it? Maybe you print a pair of shoes. Maybe even a new motorcycle. But how many people would actually go to the effort and discomfort of changing their lives, just so they could use this new toy to its fullest potential? When the question is asked that way, the answer seems to be: almost no one.
According to this line of thinking, it may be that a good way to minimize social disruption from nanofactory-level technology is simply to introduce it all at once, in a form that maximizes convenience--and minimizes creativity. Of course, this won't work in all societies. It may work best in societies where people are already comfortable and don't have a lot of incentive to invent new applications for new technologies. And over time, new products will be invented and will spread by media or word of mouth--and the spread may be quite fast, and the products may be addictive or otherwise dangerous.
Since this is a new and untested thought, I'm very much looking forward to the comments.