Imagine a world where we can look at an object, and go, “I want that.”
Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V, wait for a few minutes… congratulations, you now have your own copy.
Sounds like science fiction?
The technology to do that is already here! Sure, it is rough around the edges (ability to replicate fine detail), and sure, it only works on exterior surfaces.
I am fairly certain that technology will catch up to overcome these current limitations in the next few years. Finer detail can be accomplished through improvements in the precision of the existing technology. The technology used to scan the interiors of objects already exists in abundance in medical imaging, and thus would only need to be adapted for general purpose use.
The Economist ran an interesting article in September 2012 on the rise of 3D printing, and its disruptive potential in manufacturing:
Fortunately, like everything digital, their price has fallen. So much so, industrial 3D printers can now be had for $15,000, and home versions for little more than $1,000 (or half that in kit form).
The first thing to know about 3D printing is that it is an “additive”, rather than a “subtractive”, form of processing. The tools are effectively modified ink-jet printers that deposit successive layers of material until a three-dimensional object is built up. In doing so, they typically use a tenth of the material needed when machining a part from bulk.
3D printing is going to upset existing manufacturers, who are bound to see it as a threat to their traditional way of doing business. And as 3D printing proliferates, the incumbents will almost certainly demand protection from upstarts with low cost of entry to their markets.
Today’s 3D printing crowd […] needs to keep a keen eye on such policy debates as they grow. “There will be a time when impacted legacy industries [will] demand some sort of DMCA for 3D printing,” says Mr Weinberg. If the tinkerers wait until that day, it will be too late.
Microsoft announced in November 2012 that it was releasing software that could be used with its Kinect device to scan and create 3D models of any object:
Kinect Fusion reconstructs a 3-D model of an object or environment by combining a continuous stream of data from the Kinect for Windows sensor.
Among other things, it enables 3-D object model reconstruction, 3-D augmented reality, and 3-D measurements. You can imagine the multitude of business scenarios where these would be useful, including 3-D printing, industrial design, body scanning, augmented reality, and gaming.
3D scanning is the Ctrl+C.
3D printing is the Ctrl+V.
Put the two together.
An infinite amount of new possibilities open up, for new things to be created. There are bound to be many an exact duplicate of existing objects, but there is also bound to be a lot of people who want to modify something between copy and paste.