There are a variety of 3D printers out now and many of them are high accuracy, multi-material devices for around $1000. There are a variety of companies that are exploring 3D copying. Basically a scanner scans an object in three dimensions and then the printer copies it.
Give it a another decade or two, certainly within my lifetime, all these technologies will be almost common place and we may begin to see nanomanufacturing at the home scale. Nanomanufacturing is where an object is assembled, molecule-by-molecule, to create a perfect duplicate of anything… from a car to a banana.
All this sounds really awesome. Theoretically, if you have one banana, then you can make as many as you want. You’ll never have to go hungry as long as you have a ready supply of raw materials (carbon, water, air, and some trace elements) and your handy nanofactury.
Why won’t this be the start of a post-scarcity society and a virtual utopia?
Because, much like MP3s and digital video, modern companies can’t handle change that radical.
There will be a few companies and individuals that design something especially for 3D printing and (eventually) nanomanufacturing, but these will be the exception. The big players will not allow their machines, devices, and designs to be copied. They will begin to enact laws preventing copying of their designs. They will force 3D printer and nanofactury manufacturers to enact systems that prevent copying of designs with specific coded molecules embedded in them. These molecules that prevent copying will be in everything from food to cars.
Designers will no longer sell devices, they will sell licenses to build x copies of something. “Act now and get a 3-pack license to build X-box 1240 controllers for $75.00″.
This is how manufacturing works now and unless there is a radical change in how things are done, this is how it will happen in the future.
There will probably be an underground as well. That one guy with a banana tree could copy his banana (provided it’s not a tree purchased from a nursery “You may not scan, copy, or reproduce fruit from this tree. The purchase of this tree only allows you to eat the natural grown fruit of the tree”).
Of course, all the 3D printers and nanofacturies will have to be licensed by the government. And there will be safety systems to prevent the building of viruses, explosives, dinosaurs, and lasers. Of course, these systems will also be powered by electricity and will require some significant power to run. Another way, we can be controlled, even in what science fiction writers would call a post scarcity society.