[Note: I am not personally or professionally acquainted with Mr. Hornick. He is in no way associated with any opinions I may have, or proposals I have made. He is not affiliated in any way with the America 3.0 Institute.]
We wrote America 3.0 in 2012, mostly, and it was published in 2013. In the book we present a picture of America in 2040. We predict the demise of the industrial-era political and economic order, which is visibly failing today, and the rise of a new set of institutional arrangements for the country. A big part of this change is the development of several important new technologies which will undermine the existing order, and democratize the economy in radical ways.
We focused on 3D printing, driverless cars, cheap desalination and personalized health care and medication. We were not trying to write a comprehensive book about future technology. Rather, our goal was to indicate the scale of the changes in technology which were coming, and the disruptive impact they would have. If we were to write it now, we would have said more about robotics, drones, and blockchains, for example. Nonetheless, the general trend of things is as we predicted. And as we suspected, things are moving much faster, and the world will be even more different by 2040 than we rather conservatively predicted.
I recently ran across some outstanding videos by John Hornick, an intellectual property attorney at the Finnegan firm in DC. His Twitter is here. Mr. Hornick is an expert on the law and the technology of 3D printing. I have spent a few hours immersed in his videos.
Mr. Hornick has a video, entitled “3D Printing State of the Art: Industrial” from May of 2015 which gets into detail about the current state of the art in 3D printing. It is a good primer if you are interested in the field. His deep knowledge as well as his enthusiasm make for a compelling presentation of a highly technical subject.
Without any hype, and based on the actual practices in the industry as it is today, he is predicting massive changes in the economy to result from the development and dissemination of 3D printing technology. He mentions that there are various terms being used, including “additive manufacturing” but that he prefers the term “3d Printing” because it is the most appealing way to describe it, which grabs the imagination. I agree with him on that.
Incidentally, in our book we speculated that jet engine turbine blades would not be manufactured by 3D printing, because the processing history of the product as well as the shape and material were critical, and printing would not be able to provide the needed characteristics. We were very wrong about that! In fact, at about 57:00 he mentions that the first fully 3D printed jet engine has been made, presumably including turbine fan blades.
Mr. Hornick discusses the disruptive effect on the economy of 3D printing technology, which is only beginning to happen. He mentions as an example a company that was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on turbine blades, which started using a 3D printing to repair and replace turbine blades.
This is great for the company that needs the blades, terrible for the company that sells the blades. You can see how disruptive this technology can be, totally changing the way products are made, sold, distributed and used. And also totally changing who’s a manufacturer and who’s a customer. The customer becomes a manufacturer.
Established relationships are going to dissolve, and even established categories of business are going to dissolve.
Mr. Hornick says he views “the state of 3D printing today as where the steam engine was in 1765.” We agree that this technology is going to be, as the economists call it, a general purpose technology, meaning it will become pervasive in society, even down to the consumer and household level, it will improve in quality and fall in price over time, and it will spawn innovation. In other words, it will be a technology on the scale of the steam engine, electrical power, or computing. It will fundamentally transform society.
One thing that comes through clearly in this video is that there is a large number of firms, and they are currently using a variety of different methodologies. It reminds me of the early era of any new technology, where there are many firms and many techniques. For example there were dozens of automobile companies in the first two decades of the 20th Century. As the technology matures, there will be consolidation into fewer firms, and many approaches will be abandoned until a small set of standards are established. This typically follows a Hype Cycle, where there is excitement about the new technology, no one knows yet which firms will become leaders, there is overhype and over-investment, then there is a mass extinction phase that leaves a few market leaders standing, then a leveling off into being a mature industry.
But 3D printing is still in the “Wild West” stage, with lots of firms taking lots of different approaches. Mr. Hornick mentions the Hewlett Packard Multi Jet Fusion technology (FAQs here), which might be a “game changer.” Perhaps this machine, or a machine like it, will be the Model T of this technology.
At about 1:00:00 he talks about the legal ramification of this field. This technology, he says, cuts across all types of law and regulation. “Every industry, every type of law, every technology, they are all involved.” This is similar to the point I make in my talks about America 3.0 and the Future of the Legal Profession. The transition from America 1.0, the world of muscle power and small scale enterprises, to America 2.0, the world of machine power and large organizations, included a transformation of the legal profession. Old fields died out, or were changed in basic ways. New areas of practice arose which were never heard of before. There is nothing more basic than tort law, to the contemporary legal mind. It is one of a handful of basic features of our system. Yet it arose in its current form as a result of the steam engine. The first treatise on torts appeared in 1857, because before that time, before the existence of power machinery, the number and severity of accidents and injuries was immeasurably smaller. Similarly, the legal profession was essential to bringing the new world into being. All aspects of corporate law, litigation and transactional, had to be invented from scratch, for example. The lawyers and firms that were early and successful movers built empires, some of which endure to this day. Similar opportunities, and threats, are coming along faster than most people in the legal profession imagine.
An earlier video by Mr. Hornick from 2013, entitled “3D Printing and the Future (or Demise) of Intellectual Property” focuses more on the potential impact of 3D printing as a disruptive technology, and on the legal side of these developments.
Mr. Hornick (around 11:00) uses the helpful phrase “away from control” to describe what will happen when people can manufacture anything they want, with any functionality, at will, not subject to external supervision, and privately, with no one knowing the item was made. He predicts “a complete paradigm shift” where there is a “complete democratization of manufacturing.” The “lines will blur between manufacturers, retailers and users.”
He does not focus on this “democratization”, which is a key feature of the argument in America 3.0. We argue that the new technologies which are coming are anti-hierarchical, anti-centralizing, individually-empowering and work ideally in networks rather than boxed-in organizations. Another way to say it is that the limitations on knowledge and capabilities which Ronald Coase asserted as the rationale for the business firm are dissolving. The way I have described this is that, far from fading away, we are on the verge of a renaissance of American manufacturing, and the factory floor will be everywhere. Every single manufactured product can be and will be customized. Furthermore, 3D printing, and other technologies, will not only disrupt and transform the economy, they undermine the rationale for the modern state. Major technological changes inevitably have downstream political consequences. We can only speculate on this, but it is certainly coming. And it will take lawyers to navigate the period of disruption, and to enact the reforms needed to take advantage of these developments, so that they make our country more free and prosperous in the future.
Mr. Hornick has a webinar entiled 3D Printing and the Future (or Demise) of Intellectual Property” which I have not yet listened to.
Other sources for this topic include the following:
Mr. Hornick recently published a paper entitled 3D Printing and Public Policy, which looks good.