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4D Printing of Life?

March 24, 2019

We’ve all heard of 3D printing, the computer-controlled buildup of a material into a three-dimensional form. So what is 4D printing? Basically, the buildup of a material that has special functional properties.

A simple example would be a material that can be induced by a signal to deform or fold itself. The signal can be heat or water. Amazingly, the heat-deformable object shown retains its structural strength and load-bearing capability, even after it’s deformed.
Still other objects can be induced to fold into a precise 3D form. The MIT Self-assembly lab is famous for such devices.

What gets more interesting is when the printed substance consists of living cells and tissues. For instance, we can now print out replacement corneas for cornea transplant. Hearts and thyroids are on the way.

So at ICFA (the fantasy conference) we wondered: What would happens if you could print out an entire human being? “Clone” is a questionable term, because it has always referred to development of an organism from a single-cell zygote; in effect, a delayed twin. A 3-D printout however would have all the structure found in the copied adult—scars, memories encoded in neural connections etc. What rights would such a printout human possess?

  1. Marc Fleisher permalink
    March 24, 2019 8:15 pm

    Did it ever happen on Star Trek that when someone was transported the original was left behind?



    • March 24, 2019 8:25 pm

      I don’t recall that, but in my current book The Blood Star Frontier, printout of AI is a recurring theme.

    • Alex Tolley permalink
      March 25, 2019 12:50 am

      Yes, in ST:TNG. A transporter malfunction results in Will Riker leaving a copy on a planet who takes the name Thomas Riker when he is eventually rescued. He later becomes a rebel fighting the Federation.

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