Ethics in Tech: 3D Printing



Amit Jariwala, Director of Design and Innovation for the Institute’s George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering

Amit Jariwala Headshot

With more than 20 makerspaces across Georgia Tech’s campus, the faculty, staff, and students have the opportunity to explore their creativity, using everything from sewing machines and woodworking equipment to 3D printers.

The technology of 3D printing has been around since the 1980s, but gained notoriety in the 2000s and 2010s, decades that featured the first 3D-printed kidney, prosthetic limb, and car.
Today, companies around the world are using the technology to build things like affordable housing and personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, thanks to the development of faster and more efficient machines. These machines are also getting cheaper.

“Technology is democratizing innovation,” says Amit Jariwala, director of design and innovation for the Institute’s George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering. “If you have access to a 3D printer, you can create things that were not possible several years ago.”

So does that mean the Average Joe can use a 3D printer to create an item like a gun? At Georgia Tech’s makerspaces, students are not permitted to build anything that looks like a weapon but are encouraged to create items to develop their creative confidence and solve a problem to benefit society. While not all community makerspaces have nurtured such a positive culture, and while the average person can pick up a cheap 3D printer for $200, Jariwala says constructing objects like guns isn’t that easy. “A 3D printer is not as simple as ‘What you see is what you get.’ There is still an element of assembly and fabrication. You also need more-advanced printers to make more durable components.”

Jariwala thinks a bigger issue is ownership, as files can easily be copied and shared, leading to copyright issues similar to those created when people began using the internet to share music and movies. And questions regarding ownership lead to questions about responsibility. If a consumer modifies a manufactured product with a 3D printer and that product fails, who is held responsible? “This technology opens a lot of questions that regulation needs to catch up with.”