Often when the subject of 3-D printing [3DP] comes up, especially out here in the San Francisco Bay area where The Professor is based, he finds himself chuckling. There are the outrageous valuations of those publicly-traded companies that specialize in 3DP. There are the promiscuous claims as to what revolution[s] 3DP will or won’t engender. There are the cries that every school must have one or more 3DP machines, that everyone in the arts must experience this new miracle of making, and that big business will be the biggest beneficiaries of it all… ultimately bringing skilled manufacturing back to American shores and regions far more to the hinterlands. Everyone is so resolutely focused on the future, so engaged in looking to see where customized, on-demand printing of parts and wholes might go, so involved in guesstimating what areas of domestic manufacture might or might not be re-energized [personal consumer electronics? precision aircraft parts? sensor-based wearable fashions?] that no one seems to realize that before 3DP was a vendable process, it had to exist first as an idea.
The Professor says: Step back and look at it this way. Who amongst us can conceive of something as futuristic as 3DP as having its own history? Who was amongst the first to think of the idea behind the deposition and lithography processes that make 3DP possible?
A character as twitchy, sketchy and itchy as The Professor could easily fall into a rant here: a diatribe along the lines of “We are the progenitors of contemporary visual and material culture yet we don’t know our own profession’s history.” And we almost certainly don’t know the tidbits and tangents off of the main story arteries. One such tangential tidbit would be that of FM-2030.
W-h-a-t??? What did The Professor just say?!? [interrobang]
FM-2030, a.k.a the futurist Fereidoun M. Esfandiary, was an author and consultant in his heyday who [upon his passing in 2000] was entombed in a liquid nitrogen tank in Arizona. He awaits thawing during a “post-biological age” where it is his belief that he will be largely remade of synthetic parts; his mind will become something both secure and enduring, able to float across [and through] both time and space.
Here’s the kicker. That wasn’t FM-2030’s only Big Idea. Envisioning the rise of “interactive telecommunications,” “intelligent machines,” and unprecedented material abundance, he proposed a so-called Santa Claus machine that would produce fully three-dimensional objects on demand. How? The way a copying machine would, layer by lithographic layer. Star Trek may have had its replicator but that wasn’t a multi-purpose tool until the late 1980s when The Next Generation series launched. For that reason alone, The Professor loves this sort of hidden history: a self-proclaimed transhumanist who changed his name to a code to make it more memorable and meaningful, who embodied to the core of his being the pending societal shift [to digital technology], who proffered an optimistic even utopian vision for all people that manifests even today in Ray Kurzweil’s life-extension ideas—and who envisioned 3DP-like machines 40 or so years ago. And that’s why they call me The Professor.
n.b., The Professor makes no claim to have discovered FM-2030; he does still have the original page clipped from The New York Times that has FM-2030’s obituary dated 11 July 2000. For those interested in more than the obit [or the Wikipedia take], The Professor recommends the more in-depth profile of FM-2030 that was published in 2013 and written by Alex Mar for the excellent but under-read The Believer.