What Is 3D Printing? And Will It Change the World?

The PBS series Off Book considers the impact of this much-hyped technology.

The PBS series Off Book considers the impact of this much-hyped technology.

3D printing, futuristic name notwithstanding, is a pretty simple phenomenon: the conversion of a digital file into a physical product. With detailed instructions and the right materials, in theory and -- more and more often -- in practice, you can manufacture objects from a little machine on your desk. So we can now 3D print parts for machines and home appliances. We can 3D print cement. We can (sort of) 3D print meat.

In the latest episode of PBS's "OffBook" series, entrepreneurs and journalists discuss the future of the technology, considering not just how 3D printing can change the way humans create, but also how it can change our assumptions -- about manufacturing and retailing and economic efficiencies, about food production and even human production. "It's going to force us to change the way we think about not only buying products, but how they're made," says Carine Carmy of Shapeways, a 3D printing community and marketplace.

3D printing is still young, catering to the curious and the restless and the early-adopting. But in a few years, its enthusiasts suggest, the technology could be as ubiquitous and as easy-to-use as a camera phone. 3D printing could, sort of, change everything -- one dimension at a time.

Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic.

What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we still save the night sky?

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we still save the night sky?

Video

The Faces of #BlackLivesMatter

Scenes from a recent protest in New York City

Video

Desegregated, Yet Unequal

A short documentary about the legacy of Boston busing

Video

Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life

The Supreme Court justice talks gender equality and marriage.

Video

Social Media: The Video Game

What if the validation of your peers could "level up" your life?

Video

The Pentagon's $1.5 Trillion Mistake

The F-35 fighter jet was supposed to do everything. Instead, it can barely do anything.

More in Video

Just In