AMANDA TURNBULL • Guest Review
Amanda Turnbull is a Schulich Scholar and Term Professor at the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University, where she teaches law and technology, and legal research and writing. She is also a doctoral candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School and a former assistant dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa. His research focuses on the legal and philosophical challenges posed by creative artificial intelligence technologies.
Although the manufacture of “ghost guns” made with 3D printing technology is an offense under the Criminal Code of Canada, we continue to facilitate their illegality. We saw proof of this recently in East Preston, Nova Scotia, when a woman was injured in an incident involving a 3D-printed firearm.
Ghost guns are unnumbered, untraceable firearms that are typically user-assembled rather than purchased or assembled using components.
They are produced using digital manufacturing technology, the process of which is similar to that of inkjet printing – hence the nickname “3D printing”. A file tells the printer where to place the printing materials. The printhead deposits a material – often a liquid or powder that is heated to its melting point – and then it is allowed to harden. The process then consists of making several passes. As layers of material build up, a three-dimensional object is created.
3D printing is changing the way we understand and use everyday things. From the speed at which we can produce parts with greater precision than traditional manufacturing to the potential for healthcare, the possibilities of 3D printing are staggering.
This technology allows us to become creators of virtually anything through the open design movement. This movement is based on the idea that by openly sharing ideas and intellectual property, we can move forward and solve many of our pressing problems in the spirit of collaboration, transparency, recycling and open access. . 3D printing takes advantage of this, the hype gear and its creation into the mainstream.
But for all its apparent promise, 3D printing brings with it an ethical concern. This raises concerns about intellectual property theft since technology makes it possible to duplicate patented and copyrighted material.
3D printing raises economic concerns because it disrupts the way we have traditionally understood the manufacturing process. The 3D printing industry is shifting the role from the manufacturer to the consumer. This changes our economic supply chain, which has implications for job security.
There are also repercussions in terms of product safety. The regulatory checks and balances we have in place for product testing are based on centralized manufacturing. Factories are also regularly inspected to ensure that their premises and products comply with their original safety inspections. This centralized framework, however, might not last, as one of the attractions of 3D printing is that everything can be done at home, thus spreading manufacturing machinery throughout society.
Undeniably, the biggest ethical concern of the 3D printing industry is the possibility of creating weapons, especially firearms. Although the unauthorized manufacture of firearms is prohibited in Canada, there is no law prohibiting anyone, licensed or unlicensed, from possessing 3D printable file downloads. And even if we considered regulating software to prevent the distribution of dangerous plans, we know that it is difficult to regulate information online. The Internet is based on a global framework and our regulations are national. Users would simply go to other sites looking for the product that was not available to them in their particular jurisdiction.
In addition, we need to be more attentive to ethical considerations at the design level. 3D printing can facilitate violence. Technology that functions as a means to perpetuate and amplify existing forms of violence, especially gender-based violence, is a growing problem that evolves alongside emerging technologies.
While regulating guns and software is part of the solution to the concerns raised by the 3D printing industry, we cannot ignore the fundamental principle for creating good technology: ethics by design. In the case of 3D printing, you have to start from an ethical commitment: you can’t let printing facilitate violence.