3D Printed Gun, Robots, and the future of food pricing

Recently there’s been a company based here in Austin Texas called Defense Distributed, which has been garnering a lot of attention. This is due to the fact that first, they developed a 3D printed magazine for an AR15. Then the decided to develop 3D printed versions of portions of the gun itself. These parts are being printed in plastic, so it seems unlikely that a plastic gun would work right? Well, the lower receiver for the AR15 can survive shooting 600 rounds. That’s a big deal. The first version was able to shoot one, the second only 7. As of yesterday they released a fully printable handgun. Due to restrictions in the US gun code a gun must have a certain minimum weight of metal to be detectable by metal detectors (125g). I think that this will have major ramifications – I’m not even talking about gun rights, or gun ownership or gun whatever. I’ll discuss those in a later post. Below is a video of the “Liberator” in action.

How is this a big deal in other ways than just Gun rights? Well, several months ago a book came out called “Race Against the Machine” which argues that we need to figure out how to work with robots and computers in an effective way to maximize the returns for both workers and for the owners of the computer/robots. One of these robots they discuss is a $25k robot called Baxter. This robot is extremely easy to program and control. It offers a lot of the capabilities that a low skill employee could offer and more than many expensive robots. In fact we’re seeing this in re-shoring efforts from companies like Tesla and Apple. They won’t be bringing back the old school manufacturing jobs. There will only be technician jobs related to fixing broken equipment, which will be significantly fewer jobs. Even if Baxter only lasts 3 years, it more than paid for itself in being able to operate for 24/7 for 25k in total rather than paying four people more than that each year.

Add in the capability for people to download  designs for guns and many other things from Thingiverse which can be printed from home and how cheap it is to send designs to companies like Shapeways – where you can print in metal, these changes are going to radically change our current manufacturing infrastructure and distribution system. We aren’t prepared for this and it’s going to reduce the number of low end jobs in existence.

Which brings me to the next point. Food prices are high. When people can’t feed themselves there are riots and revolts. We’ve seen this twice already in the past 5 years and we’re poised for more violence by August of this year. According to a study published two years ago food prices are near the threshold level of the Arab Spring. If these prices are still as high as predicted then we could see some serious issues in the next few years unless we radically begin rethinking our economic models.

We’ll be seeing massive disruption and opportunities in the manufacturing space. This will likely have massive ramifications on our supply chain, which has huge numbers of employees. The ability to print your own cheap plastic products could impact toy sales and the retail industry.

Is this bound to happen, no, certainly not. However, 3D Printers are now available for sale at Staples for $1,300 prebuilt, they’ve come pretty close to mainstream. The next step are going to be more advanced printers that are able to print faster, cool faster, print more complex designs with less structure, and eventually we might be able to print metal products on a printer that costs $1300. A lot of people won’t want to do this, but there will be enough where it could have a serious impact on the economy.

What do you think? Am I overreacting?

Some thoughts on gun issues

I posted the following as a comment to my brother’s comment about gun control. He’s a boarder patrol agent. Basically he commented about how allowing guns (in the right hands) can save lives. He also argued that if you take guns away from most people only criminals will have them. As most of you know I love to shoot guns. I’ve shot all sorts of guns from pistols to an AR15. I think it’s fun and a good way to enjoy some time with your friends. That being said, here’s my comment to him.

“Alright, I’ve been hearing a lot about how gun control won’t fix the problem. You know I like shooting guns and do believe that we should be able to own guns. Now, I think that there needs to be some level of gun control/additional checking before gun purchases are made but I’m not exactly sure what that is. Secondly, simply saying criminals won’t follow the law isn’t a suitable answer either because there’s no completion of the thought. If criminals won’t follow the law, why are they criminals in the first place? What do we need to do to eliminate their supposed need for the gun to commit said dubious act?

I believe that to truly eliminate (or greatly reduce gun violence) we need to address the root cause, gun control alone won’t work. We have to address the reasons for the criminality. Those include, poverty, inequality, drug addiction, sale of drugs, unemployment, being a convicted felon and so on. All of these causes have significant interaction effects. You can’t separate sale of drugs from drug addiction and drug usage is higher in impoverished areas. So, this indicates to me that we need to address the root cause issue behind poverty and drugs. The extralegal crimes related to drugs include things like murder over turf wars and the sort of activities you’re involved with as a boarder patrol agent, smuggling, etc… We as a society have direct control over what is a legal and illegal drug. We have control over this – it’s a matter of do what we consider the right thing to do about drugs.

The other obvious area we need to address is mental health, which has a different root cause than the others. Many people can’t afford the mental health they need because we as a society don’t value mental health very well and many insurance companies think it’s a waste of time.

In my mind I think that if we want to address the true root cause behind gun violence we need to address poverty, drugs, and mental health. Unless you or anyone else for that matter, is willing to seriously consider fixing many of these issues, then gun control is one of the few options we have to address it. It’s a failed option from the start because it’s a band aid. In my opinion all gun advocates need to pull together and push for reform on those social issues I outlined to keep guns ownership legal as you think it should be. Otherwise we are doomed to repeat this sort of cycle.”

Yes, this is something of a rant, but I think we need to really consider what we value as a culture and how we decide to address an issue like gun control. The events at Sandy Hook and other locations in the past 2 years around the world are horrible.

Colorado, guns and society

Horrible tragedy has struck Colorado. We still don’t understand what caused this man to do this. This is also the second piece on mass killings and guns that I’ve written in the past year, the Norway tragedy was only a year ago. There was some discussion after that about the ease of access of weapons in the US, but with the alleged gunman in Colorado using an AR-15 there most certainly will be discussions of re-instating the assault rifle ban that lapsed early in the Obama administration.

Let’s first take a look at some of the history of the US before moving onto anything else. The Right to Bear Arms comes from the bill of rights amended to the constitution of the United States. The reason the founding fathers created these rights stems from the injustices the colonies experienced under British rule. Preventing gun ownership caused hardships for the colonists as they were fighting with the Indians, protecting their live stock and hunting for food. Distances were much greater at the time, so you needed to be able to fend for yourselves. The founding fathers also were revolutionaries, obviously, as they had just overthrown Britain. Jefferson, in particular felt that the citizens had the right to overthrow their own government. The ability to overthrow the government is predicated on the ability to fight against the government. The right to bear arms is paramount to this capability, hence it is an essential right in our Constitution.


A lot has changed in the past 200+ years. Weapons technology is at a level that our founding fathers never imagined. Our explosives are smaller and more powerful than theirs. The sheer number of people would be mind boogling to them, as we have stadiums that can hold more people than all the population of Philly in 1776 and Houston has nearly as many people in the city as all of the 13 colonies did in 1776. The amount of damage we can inflict and the number of people that can be impacted as exponentially increased.


What has not kept up with our ability to kill and our population are our institutions. Organizations like the NRA push for looser and looser gun laws as they feel that is an unalienable right. However, they do not take on issues that lead to increases in gun violence such as prohibition of drugs (increases violence) or mental health concerns. In the United States we look at mental health issues as something to be kept quiet and to have a mental disease is to be stigmatized. These prevent people that require help from seeking the help that they need. Plus, the cost of mental health care is extremely expensive. In many cases insurance companies don’t want to pay for the cost of seeing a psychiatrist or will limit the amount of treatment a person can receive. Addressing the actual problem will do more for protecting gun ownership rights than any glib quote such as “You can take my gun from my cold dead hands” we need to understand the underlying root cause of the massacre and fix that. 


The other concern that we should all have in regard to controlling weaponry is the importance of having access to weapons when overthrowing a dictator. In the past 2 years we’ve seen many types of revolutions. Ranging from the completely peaceful to the extremely violent in Libya and Syria. In each country access to foreign weapons are making the difference for the rebels, but for the rebels to even reach the point where the international community stepped in to help them, required weapons to start the civil war. Whether we like it or not, that is the reason why the founders included the right to bear arms in our constitution. 


What we need to do as a society is to look at where our values stand. Do we feel that we should treat addiction like a crime, or like a mental health epidemic? The need for gun ownership can drop once drug issues can be dealt within our legal system instead of requiring extralegal remedies, such as killing the person that is taking your turf. Looking at how we deal with bullying and other mental health issues can prevent another Columbine or Aurora from happening again. I’m going to close this post with an interview with Marilyn Manson in Bowling for Columbine. Regardless of what you think about the man himself, or his shock rock, he is an extremely articulate speaker and asks us to look in the mirror when these tragedies happen. Our society causes them, our society can fix them.


Norway and extremism

My heart goes out to Norway. I’ve been doing a lot of reading about this, there have been tons of blog posts speculating the reasons that drove this man to commit these heinous crimes. Over on /r/atheism there’s discussion that atheists should be pointing out that this was a christian terrorist and work to ensure that the name sticks. They are saying that our media uses different words because he was christian compared to muslim.

In the US this massacre will no doubt bring up debates about restricting gun usage and access. However, Norway has some of the strictest gun laws in the world, and it clearly didn’t help. This blog post helps explain the extent that this man went to in carrying out this violence. Additionally Al Jazeera has an interesting op-ed lambasting NYT for quickly claiming it was a muslim terrorist then switching to christian extremist.

My take on this is a bit more complex. The op-ed writer claims that it’s not a battle between Islam and Christianity but a battle between extremists and the average person. While he is correct in that, it’s not as simple as we’d like it to be. Unfortunately, differences in religion and cultures make it very difficult to figure out ways of dealing with these problems. Misinformation has spread so there is a lack of trust between your average person in the west and in the middle east. Bridging that gap will be difficult. In europe there are additional problems.

In many articles there are discussions of the lack of integration of different groups of immigrants into European countries. Some of these groups have the highest rates of criminality in the country. For example in the Netherlands Moroccans are the group with the highest level of criminality in the country. They have not integrated well at all. However, this is a two edge sword, as in many cases they aren’t allowed to integrate. One of my friends told me about a friend of his roommate’s that is Moroccan and even though he was born and raised in Amsterdam he is excluded from most bars because he is Moroccan.

These problems are extremely difficult to deal with and the stereotyping and racism can lead to extremism. This is what we’ve seen in this case. In the US, it was fueled by the Tea-Party, Beck, Palin and other politicians, in the Netherlands it’s been fueled by Geert Wilders, and unless we can figure out a way to make them feel responsible for the anger they entice and inflame we are not going to see these messages stop.

That’s only part of it. We need to work together to create a way for both groups of people to integrate. Requiring immigrants to take language courses is a way to do this. However, at least in the Netherlands, they are extremely expensive and many of the workers are working class and may not be able to afford the courses. So, perhaps some integration programs by the government will help with this. Additionally, to help with cultural issues using full immersion courses would work best. These courses can help teach the history of the country and about the cultural heritage of the country as well. This will ease the transfer from the previous living environment to the new one, as well as make the new immigrants more likely to integrate.

Who is going to pay for that. I don’t know, most likely the immigrants and recent immigrants. However, this won’t address a lot of problems. Specifically how do you deal with people like this Norwegian guy? I’m not sure. But I think addressing the ability of immigrants to integrate may help a great deal with these problems.