Thursday, December 20, 2012

Unintended Consequences of Makerbot.

Slashdot drew my attention to this Forbes story today, which made me shake my head in sadness.  Makerbot has always seemed to have the promise to transform the world -- as  Chris Anderson of Wired has described it, "[w]hat desktop fabrication represents is a laboratory for the future, not just of manufacturing but of stuff itself."

"3D-Printing Firm Makerbot Cracks Down ..."
Andy Greenberg,, December 21, 2012

However, I think the Maker movement has now found its equivalent of the Internet's Rule 34. In short, if you give people a way to make things, someone will use it to create a gun, and using Makerbot to create automatic weapons is just about the worst idea possible.

I respect the effort to prevent electronic distribution of the designs, but that's not going to cut it, because darknets can move those around.  DRM on a Makerbot, which might prevent these designs from being used in the first place, is something that very bright people have been thinking about for a while. But the somewhat dismal history of DRM suggests DRM can, at best, mitigate, rather than prevent such problems.

Ultimately, we need to know more about the people prone to doing these things. If someone's trying to  print parts to create an automatic weapon, stopping them is important.  But so is letting the right person know they're trying to do it in the first place. 

DRM helps -- but the solution is probably going to involve Big Data ...