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Sunday, February 5th, 2023

3D printing could lead to security threats, labor market disruption

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The technology known as 3D printing could disrupt labor markets and exacerbate security threats from violent actors, a new RAND Corporation paper suggests.

To the latter point, 3D printing could benefit military adversaries, violent extremists, and even street criminals, who could produce their own weapons for use and sale.

Without proper controls, some violent actors might be able to reproduce even more sophisticated weapons systems and drones. They could also replicate jamming devices or decoys that disrupt intelligence collection. The technology could also be susceptible to hackers who could create flawed instructions or algorithms into things like airplane parts.

“Lone-wolf attacks may become more lethal when individuals have ready access to 3D printers,” said Trevor Johnston, lead author and an associate political scientist at RAND, a nonpartisan research organization. The paper is entitled “Additive Manufacturing in 2040: Powerful Enabler, Disruptive Threat.”

Further, it could allow countries under international sanctions to produce complex items domestically, mitigating the economic impact of sanctions.

From an economic perspective, 3D printing may allow manufacturing firms to produce products domestically rather than importing them. That could, in turn, weaken international partnerships and supply chains. Ultimately, it could lead to lead to disruption and upheaval in labor markets.

“Unemployment, isolation, and alienation of middle and low-skilled laborers may be exacerbated by additive manufacturing together with automation and artificial intelligence,” Troy Smith, an author on the paper and an associate economist at RAND, said.

The key to mitigating the risks depends, in part, on the regulation of printers, raw materials, and software (intellectual property). By limiting supplies of dangerous raw materials, regulators can ensure that some of the most destructive weapons do not become readily accessible.

The research was conducted by the RAND Center for Global Risk and Security, which deals with multidisciplinary research and policy analysis regarding systemic risks to global security.