TECH TALKS: Important advances are closer than most realize

People often approach me asking what is new in the world of technology. Not surprising, considering how often people are shocked to hear of technological developments that I had considered to be common knowledge. I’ve wondered if people were just out of touch, or if I was the only one paying attention.

And as it turns out, it was a combination of the two. People are out of touch because no one is actively giving out information about small developments that have huge implications. Implications alone aren’t quite enough to get coverage. Big-name news programs aren’t going to touch base with the scientists who have cracked DNA storage and were able to store 700 terabytes of data into a single gram, or the self-driving cars that are gaining more and more ground. They are going to report on products that are readily available to the mainstream markets. News outlets mostly focus on the now, not on what’s to come.

Developments in technology are incredibly thought-provoking. One small advancement or piece of completed research can leave people daydreaming about the future for hours. Thought-provoking, however, does not by any means mean well known. Many of these developments commonly get swept under the rug. Technology isn’t the only thing going on in the world, meaning news outlets can’t cover everything that’s going on all the time. Other news outlets do write about research updates and astonishing developments, but I’ve always felt that a good portion of the important minor ones were cast aside and showcased only on science blogs.

Technology is versatile. One day it can be medical; the next, Russians are claiming to achieve immortality by printing the makeup of their brain into a machine by 2045. Incredible advancements that seem like they’re from some bad science fiction novel seem to happen overnight,. Though it’s all there, people need someone to point it out.

For instance, while most people have heard of 3D printers at least once, they may not have heard of how close we are to having them replace current 2D printers. Until these past few weeks, 3D printers have been universities’ secret multi-thousand dollar devices they keep behind closed doors. And yet recently, Scott Summit, one of the world’s leading 3D printer experts printed a guitar. Not a picture of a guitar, but by using the material that real guitars use, Summit printed a three-dimensional,  completely strummable device.

By using a printer shaped like a box with a hollow center, the printer sets layers of material on top of each other in the places that a downloaded program and design tells it to. After time passes, the printer has set down enough layers to see the shape of whatever it was programmed for. The item can be then removed and used in everyday life. An example would be layering a metal material in the shape of a paper clip. Suddenly, rather than having to go out to Staples and buy five hundred paper clips, one could simply print them out as needed.

3D printing has endless possibilities. All it requires is to have the 3D design on a computer and have the right raw materials in the printer, much the same as having a miniature factory. And as research has progressed, the printers are becoming smaller and smaller, and scientists hope to have them released to the market for below $1000 within the next 12 months. That price may be steep for some, but compared to the multi-million dollar tools that universities hide away, the price is much more manageable.

But nothing is without risk, and while 3D printing shows great promise, there will also be a large government response. If you could print staples at home, how would the company whoose sole purpose is to manufacture staples survive? In such a hypothetical scenario, that company would take out a copyright on their design of staples, which would cause countless legal battles for those at home. People would question why they should be fined hundreds of dollars for printing a simple staple at home.

3D printing will be a double-sided sword. It will put almost anything a simple Ctrl+P away, letting everything get done around the house without having to go to stores. New products no longer have to be bought at shopping centers like Target when they could simply be downloaded and printed. Sure, the raw material used to create such products would have to be purchased.  But with 3D printing, shops that sell such products will suffer. It will be much the same as what happened to the video rental shops around the country when online video streaming hit the Internet. These shops will do everything they can to survive, and because of that we can look forward to a lot of Cease and Desist orders that seem ridiculous, but are life and death to the sueing company.

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