Giving Compass' Take:

• In Additive Manufacturing in 2040: Powerful Enabled, Disruptive Threat, RAND Corporation explores the potential for 3D printing (additive manufacturing) to threaten security through weapon proliferation and trade disruption. 

• How can these threats best be prevented? What advances in technology can be used to mitigate these threats? 

• Find out how 3D printing could help house people in poverty

3D printers already produce everything from prosthetic hands and engine parts to basketball shoes and fancy chocolates. But as with any technological advance, new possibilities come with new perils.

Weapons Proliferation

The development and spread of AM could significantly accelerate weapon proliferation and have dramatic effects on international conflict, violent extremism, and even everyday crime. At the domestic level, point-of-sale consumption will no longer be an opportunity for governmental control of risky goods, such as firearms and drones. State sovereignty is predicated on a monopoly of force and, at a minimum, the capacity to regulate arms. AM will further relax this control, giving private citizens greater access to lethal weapons and other tools of violence. States will face increasing threats to public order as everyone from protesters to members of criminal networks becomes capable of rapidly producing such weapons.

Economic Insecurity, Trade, and Dislocations in a Multipolar World

As it becomes possible for manufacturing to become more localized, there could be a decoupling of economic prosperity and globalization. Should the growth of the AM industries correspond with parallel advancements in automation, AI, robotics, and other disruptive emergent technologies, the workforce could look dramatically different in two decades. A larger proportion of locally produced products could weaken the economic interdependencies of nations.

Mitigation Strategies and Policy Recommendations

In the previous sections, we described the disruptive potential of AM and the future security threats that this technology could unleash. This future, however, is not inevitable. Domestic and international policy choices made today have the potential to dramatically influence the future, making it incumbent that we begin to address these challenges now while the technology can still be shaped.