Coronavirus pandemic: 3D printing’s big moment?

3D printing technology has existed for years. The community has formed for almost as long. But the case for its wide adoption has remained elusive.

3D Printing maching (CC SVG)

As author and futurist Bruce Sterling remarked in an interview on this blog five years ago: “It interests me that the [3D printing-focused] Maker scene has never created a true megahit, some toy or gizmo that literally everybody had to have.”

Today, one might argue that personal protective equipment is something everyone needs to have – either or directly on indirectly. A leadership vacuum in the US creates the demand for the products of this distributed technology.

The Bloomberg article details how 3D printing hobbyists in the US are stepping in to fulfill the personal protective equipment needs of hospitals and doctors treating coronavirus patients when the government has failed.

Importantly, networked, distributed manufacturing also creates a moment for networked, distributed outpouring of civic-mindedness and care for neighbor (in a time of caustic internal division).

It’s a moment of modernizing for a country that has missed out various stages of infrastructure thanks to the anti-government ideology of recent decades.

Citizens using 3D printing to save the lives of their fellow citizens conveys a sense of order and meaning in this chaotic and hate-filled environment. Like a lot of communication tools that existed prior to the pandemic but are only becoming fully utilized now, such as Zoom, 3D printing is moving from fringe to the core of the citizens’ experience.

The adoption of 3D printing during this crisis may not create a utopia but it can at least act as a salve for the ongoing dystopia many people are facing today. Can economists accurately pick up the activity it generates? As it is embraced more widely, it’s prospects will continue to grow.

Would you call this freedom?

Silicon Valley’s vision of the internet is built largely on a type of free speech absolutism which for a long time recognized nearly all speech as equal. Until 2016, the industry embraced a definition of “free speech” that placed itself at the center of the debate as private-sector guarantor of this freedom. The position conveniently allowed its vast dumb machines to operate with a bare minimum of human oversight, relative to the number of users.

Free Speech Flag – CC John Marcotte

The confusing part of this position was the use of the word “free” because what these platforms facilitated wasn’t liberty in the ordinary sense- but a sort of simulation of it.

Esteemed author Peter Pomerantsev explains it best:

“On social media you can express yourself to your heart’s content, but your online speech is then transmuted into data, sold to data brokers and on to political forces that will use your speech to target you with customized messages without you ever knowing or understanding when how or why you are being influenced.”

You feel free expressing yourself but you are subject to manipulation you aren’t privy to understand, or see. The words and images you choose as a reflection of your personal thoughts are sifted by a machine, sorted and instrumentalised to work upon you, and against you.

People can say whatever they please, but their expression on the platform is just the public part of an interaction. The words and pictures generated by humans are the input that is linked to an output social media users are instrumentalized with.

We talk about freedom, or unfreedom. This is more like a simulation of freedom. Sham freedom. Or, perhaps, “phreedom.”

Biden v Trump: 2020 digital political warfare

Can democracy function if the public’s reasoning mind is circumvented? If the building blocks of facts are purposely skewed, a balanced view of the world become unobtainable. Technology allows rivals to alter a targeted audience’s experience in way unimaginable before. No longer do consumers/participants have to look for the information, or encounter it by chance. Rather, slanted information can be served up where an audience is already living – on their social media feeds. This issue came to light in the 2019 Federal election, when Labor voters in Queensland were targeted with “death tax” disinformation, likely shifting the national poll outcome.

A climate strike (CC David Holt)

The issue is only going to worsen in the 2020 election in the US. A recent article from the New York Times illustrates the dilemma around the use of information in this way. It’s telling who is willing to seize this information, and who restrains themselves. But will restraint be enough as the Biden camp faces off against daily political warfare from the Trump gang?

Last September, as activists were laying plans for a climate strike in New York City, a progressive digital strategist had an idea: capture cellphone location data to collect the phone numbers of protesters in lower Manhattan.

The technique, known as geofencing, would provide valuable information for 2020. But the donors backing the march vetoed the idea as intrusive and potentially unethical, said the strategist, David Goldstein.

Right-wing allies of the Trump campaign had no such qualms. They organized their own geofencing effort, sucking up the phone numbers of many of the estimated 60,000 protesters, according to a person familiar with the effort who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The plan, the person said, is to target potential Democratic voters with messages undercutting the party’s candidate

New York Times, March 30, 2020

In a hard reading of “freedom of expression”, the capture and use of this information would be yet more free speech. Yet, in a democracy, citizens need to look at the world and use some element of the reasoning mind to understand it, in order to make a sensible determination about who to vote for. Information used this way seems to be an end-run around this necessary intellectual process.

There have of course always been campaigns to influence voters for or against candidates or causes in the past without such technology.

But today, ubiquitous technology, providing high-sensory content, can give political actors a way to alter the experience of the world for a targeted audience, preventing their reasoning mind from grasping and weighing the variables before them.

Freedom of expression matters. But is the freedom to use information in a way that circumvents the reasoning mind, a right? This is certainly an area to watch in the future.

China moves from information to disinformation

The Chinese government is getting the hang of using disruptive disinformation, alongside it’s more thematic traditional propaganda to support its goal of dominating the world’s understanding of the coronavirus outbreak.

But the big question: is the CCP acting from a position of strength or a position of weakness? My sense is, strength. But that’s also because they look to be in better control of the coronavirus outbreak just now.

A couple stories and comment pieces here: