3D printing is all the rage, isn’t it? Haven’t you heard? What it does is, it’s like an inkjet printer, which works by squirting tiny blobs of ink at a piece of paper to, you know, print things, except that instead of it being like, blobs of ink, it’s actually little blobs of molten plastic, and instead of just landing on the paper like the ink out of an inkjet printer, and just like, you know, being a blob of ink just on a piece of paper instead of actually in the air, and after all, what the hell is the use of blobs of ink on paper anyway, except to print stuff, and what difference did that make to anyone ever, but anyway, that’s not the point, instead of just landing, the plastic blobs just land on top of each other, and then cool down, so that they build up into a, like, thing. Obviously the thing doing the printing has to move back a bit, because the thing that’s being printed is, like, coming towards it.

Anyway, what it means is, that, like, some guy can have a thing, right, which is sort of all complex and stuff, and he can send it to you – oh, actually, I should have mentioned that it’s okay, women can do it too. And gays. Anyway – and you get your own version of the tiny thing. There was this thing right, where this dog needed a new like, leg or ear or something, and because they didn’t have one for dogs, someone just designed it, in Taiping or some place, and the vet who was like putting the dog’s leg on just printed it out on a 3-D printer, without it having to be made, or posted or anything.

And there was this other thing, right, like where this guy had made this thing that like – walks – you know, it really walks, along a beach and stuff, but just because, like the wind is blowing or something, and it looks a bit freaky, kind of like it’s an insect, or something, but it isn’t it’s like a kind of clockwork walking thing, and anyway, this guy invented it, and it’s big, but like he put it into a 3D printer, and you can print one out for yourself, and it’s exactly the same, only it’s tiny, and it will walk just the same, only not along a beach, but along your desk. Stephen Fry had one. But the thing is, right, you might be saying, well, yeah, but why couldn’t you just get instructions to make one yourself, but man, it would be so freaking fiddly fitting all those bits together, you’d probably start self-harming and shit before you actually made the thing, so it’s really cool that you can just get this printer to actually make it for you, and it’s all you know – articulated. And shit.

So I’m thinking this is like, really cool, so I wonder what else it could be used for, and I’m thinking well, it’s a shame that it’s only plastic, because you know, not many things which are actually interesting are made of plastic. Apart from the beach walker thing. And the dog leg. But you know, if you could have something that was actually like a 3D printer, in fact, it was a 3D printer, but instead of it being plastic in its tubes, or whatever, it was, like, food. Then you could just get it to squirt little blobs of food in a particular order, and it would slowly, layer by layer, build up, say a cheeseburger. Well, it’s true, by the time the thing was actually printed, the burger would be, like, cold, but my grandparents invented this thing called a microwave, which warms stuff up, so you could print your burger and put it in the microwave, and it would be hot, and you wouldn’t have to go to McDonalds any more.

Now, the thing is, that it isn’t going to solve world hunger, or anything, because, you’ve got to have the, like – I don’t know – 3D  toner, the raw materials to put into the thing, you know you’d have to load it up with cartridges of meat and bread and cheese which it could fire out in small enough bits that it would actually be like eating a burger, and if you were that hungry, you’d probably just eat what was in the cartridges before you printed the burger.

Anyway, I’m just thinking what a great idea this is, and it turns out they’re actually actually doing it. There are already machines out there that will print you a burger. And cakes. Which is going to make Bake-Off a bit boring, isn’t it, but never mind.

So now I’m thinking, well, okay, if they can do that, what they need to do is just make the nozzle really really small, so like so tiny that you just send one atom down the nozzle at a time – yeah well, it isn’t actually going to just be squirted, it’s going to have to be some kind of precision process, but hey have you ever actually seen what computer printers used to be like? They were crap. So then all you need is a printer that’s just loaded up with like, shedloads of atoms of all the different elements of that periodic table that has, like, elements in it – you probably wouldn’t need uranium or vanadium or rutherfordium that much, just a fair bit of carbon and some iron and oxygen and stuff – and you could pretty much 3D print anything you wanted. Except that where do you get your instructions from?

Well, suppose, right, suppose that you also have something like a, you know, those – MRI scanner, that’s it. You have one of those, but it’s really like small. Well, it doesn’t have to be small, but it can’t really be like those things on trailers that go round the country checking out people’s insides. But it’s the same kind of thing, and it can scan all through something, and work out exactly what it’s made of. It does the reverse of that atomic 3D printer, right, it checks out each atom, or molecule, or whatever kind of thing works for the chemists, and it makes a note of it in a great big file, right, like the ones that we feed into the atomic 3D printer.

Okay, have you got where I’m going with this? Right, so you have your 3D scanner in one place, and you have your 3D printer at the other end, and you send the message across, and you have a replicator. Yes! It’s a matter synthesizer just like Jean-Luc Picard used to get his tea-earl-grey-hot out of.  All you need is to be able to squirt enough atoms out per second to make sure that they all bind up into the right compounds and stuff, and it will all be perfect.

But better than that: So that nothing goes to waste, you could have the scanner remove the atoms as it goes and file them away for using later on. And if you do that, right, you’ve got a matter transporter. You can like, just fax things anywhere in the world.

The beauty of this system is that if you scan as much stuff as you print, no one would ever need to refill the machines with atoms, except for when, like you’d been printing out loads of coal, and the carbon tray was getting a bit low.

And you thought this stuff was science fiction.


And I thought they were the stuff of science fiction.



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