Yesterday I went to the Open Design Now book launch in Amsterdam. People were so excited with the possibilities of openness, that few mentioned potential drawbacks of it. The only potential drawback discussed there was about the possibilities of not making money from it.
It’s true that Open Design doesn’t have clear business models right now, but there are more potential threats than not making money from it. Open Design is proposing to change the whole supply chain of goods. This will make great impact on sustainability, division of labor, urban planning. It’s very difficult to anticipate what could happen, but we should keep an eye, at least, on what’s is dangerous.
Open Design can help people print cheap prosthetics at the nearest Fab Lab but also can help people produce weapons. Actually, one of the most famous weapon of the 20th century, the AK-47 riffle, can be considered an open design product. Being a Soviet invention, it was not patented and many countries have copied it without having to pay any royalties. The World Bank conducted a study on the production of small arms in developing countries and observed that the openness of the AK-47 was key to it’s widespread usage.
Another key element is that it was easy to use. Vietnam War showed that the AK-47 could transformed peasants into warriors, giving them power to organize guerrillas to defend themselves. Many people have been killed by the AK-47, but also many have been protected. In War, as in Health, openness is appropriated by the minorities.
Ok, but what happens when the minorities are not aware of the destruction they can cause? Think, for instance, at weapons of mass destruction. It’s improbable that we’ll have open nuclear bombs, but it’s clearly possible to have open bio and chemical weapons, using air, water and food as carriers. These weapons become out of control easily and it’s difficult to trace where they came from. Even if you find it, how could you make someone responsible for it if it was engendered by a distributed network of collaborative terrorists?
Now, let’s turn the table and put things in another way. Current consumption habits are not sustainable. Too much waste is being produced both at industries and home. The climate is changing because of it. What would happen if everyone could have their own Fab Lab at home to print whatever cool thing they find on the Internet? How much more waste will we have by changing planned obsolescence to unplanned obsolescence? There is the possibility of using recyclable materials for printing, but if people can choose a cheaper non-recyclable toxic material and have them collected with regular trash after using it, they’ll do it. People need to be aware of Open Design impact on their environment.
If we don’t think about it now, the new weapon of mass destruction of the 21st century can be something like that: