Pirate Bay Gets Physical with 3D Designs

The torrent site, Pirate Bay has introduced a new category of downloads -- for physical designs of 3D-printable objects. This is an interesting step forward for Open Hardware as this will make designs available to a broader audience. There is already a proprietary distribution channel via Shapeways, but making the designs publicly downloadable means they can be printed by local suppliers or on your own 3D printer.

I suppose it's a sign of just how disruptive a technology automated manufacturing and 3D printing is that when Pirate Bay announced its new 3D printing collection, many of the commenters apparently thought it was a joke.

Once upon a time, almost everybody made things for themselves. They traded knowledge with other people and passed it on to their children. Almost the entire history of human civilization was spent in this mode. There were no "factories" or "corporations" or "industrial centers".

Then along came more and more sophisticated manufacturing technologies. I say "more sophisticated", because it was, but it was also what by today's standards would be consider very dumb manufacturing -- you could make stuff cheaply in large quantities as long as it was okay for them to all be alike. And it required a large infrastructure to make it happen, so you needed lots of money to capitalize.

That created an opportunity for business -- specifically for the big corporate businesses that run the world today.

But the same companies also produced the computer and increasingly inexpensive and compact replicating machines. It started with the printing press, but over time we've been able to apply the same basic concept to manufacturing smarter and smarter products -- printed circuit boards, integrated circuits, microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) devices, and nowadays physical consumer products through 3D printing. Robotic assembly will eventually make it possible to go further, putting all of these together -- although for a lot of people putting things together by hand is a small price to pay for unique and personalized products.

Now the window of opportunity for the massive corporate enterprises is fading. Manufacturing can now be reduced in size and cost and made local to the people who want the products. In time, even services like Shapeways will fade away (or at least face much more local competition) as more and more people have access to the 3D printing equipment.

This is as it should be -- anyone looking at the long course of history and the powerful force for good that the enlightenment brought us can see that this is the natural arc that humanity must follow. This is destiny.

But of course, it's probably going to be fought by the people who've gotten too used to the way things are. So it seems completely appropriate that the "Pirates" are getting ready to fill a need for distributing this new kind of information before the lobbies of displaced entitlement attack.


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