Publication Details

Birtchnell, T. & Urry, J. (2013). 3D, SF and the Future. Futures, 50 (June), 25-34.


This article assesses the use of ‘Science Fiction’ (SF) in visioning or prototyping the potential economic and social consequences of so-called 3D printing. What is becoming clear to many commentators as well as science fiction writers is how rapid prototyping, or 3D printing more generally, could permit many final objects to be made near to or even by consumers on just-in-time ‘printing’ machines. This revolution in making would have many implications for the economy-and-society in the future by seriously augmenting, or possibly replacing, current systems of manufactured production, long-distance transportation and consumption. These 3D technologies have featured in SF works, including Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age, Ian McDonald's Brasyl, Charles Stross's Rule 34 and Cory Doctorow's Makers. The article reports on current research seeking to understand the implications of what may be a major new sociotechnical system in the making. Some creative uses of SF are presented in a professional workshop setting. As well the article documents the use of SF as a methodological prototype in forecasting alternative scenarios of the future. SF prototyping could be a powerful tool in the social science repertoire when put into action in forecasting possible technology and business futures.



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