But if Star Trek is correct, "replicators" may appear someday--allowing instant generation of a product from a device like a 3-D fax machine. For those unfamiliar with Star Trek, the "replicator" was a device common by the 24th century (the Star Trek: The Next Generation timeline). If you wanted a meal, or even a guitar or clarinet, you could verbally "order" the item and the replicator would generate it via a matter conversion technique. (On a TNG
episode, someone ordered a guitar from the replicator, and on a VOY episode, one of the Voyager crewmembers saved up his replicator rations to generate himself a clarinet (his was left at home)).
Recently, I have seen articles in magazines about machines that can generate 3-D objects similar to the process used by a fax machine. One magazine article featured a green violin that had been "replicated", and played just as beautifully as any real violin.
In the medical field, especially in craniofacial and maxillofacial surgery (I have seen this myself!), doctors can take the data from a CT
scan, compile the "slices" in the computer, and, from a type of 3-D "fax machine", generate a 3-D stereolithographic model of the patient's skull! I myself had a cone-beam CT
scan done at UCSF Medical Center by the craniofacial team, and I have the CD
with all the data on it. If I had the money, I would have a 3-D stereolithographic model made of my own skull--which has all the skeletal malformations characteristic of my craniofacial disorder (Treacher Collins syndrome). Yes, my CD
of my own CT
scan contains all the data necessary to do this.
Now, look into the future a bit. Imagine that a "replicator" type machine becomes available, and eventually prices for this technology come down enough for it to become commonplace (like fax machines or copiers are commonplace today). Connected to a computer linked to the Internet, you could go shopping online for anything from (portable, simple) musical instruments to toys to shoes. Then you would pay for the item online. There would be no shipping charges (but maybe a nominal charge for the convenience of replicator use).
Once your oder was placed and paid for, the replicator linked to the computer would activate, and in a short time (seconds or minutes), a reasonable facsimile of the desired object would be generated.
What technology would the "replicator" use? It could either be a variation of the Star Trek transporter (matter-energy conversion), but on a simpler scale for inanimate objects (but not for transporting humans), or it could operate on the principle of a 3-D fax machine--by generating a "copy" of the original object from stored matter (by molecular resequencing). Using the latter technology, the sender could put the original object in a scanner, which would then send the CT
-scan-like data to the receiving terminal, which would generate a facsimile of the object, just like the aforementioned cone-beam CT
scan stereolithographic model system used by craniofacial and maxillofacial surgeons.
Try to imagine what kind of economy that would be...
I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made... (Psalm 139:14)