It Was Just A Matter Of Time

They’ve cloned a Stradivarius with a 3-D printer. I don’t think we’re that far from Star Trek replicators.

The economic and market effects of this technology will be far reaching. For instance, as Eric Drexler pointed out in the eighties, what happens when there is no way, other than a chain of custody, to tell the difference between the original Mona Lisa and an exact copy?

17 thoughts on “It Was Just A Matter Of Time”

  1. It sounds like they didn’t use a 3d printer, but used a CNC milling machine to duplicate the individual pieces of wood.

    1. There was,a 3D-printed Stradivarius on the cover of “The Economist” a few months ago, however. I believe Rand even linked to it at the time.

      The important question, though, will always remain. What is the plural of “Stradivarius”? 🙂

  2. If Drexler’s universal assemblers are physically possible, and I don’t see why not, it does make the Fermi Paradox (perhaps we should call it the Fermi Puzzle) even harder to understand.

    1. Nope, it makes easier since it makes planets like the Earth much less valuable to any aliens. Why look for a “New Earth” when you are able to use replicator technology to transform a planet where you are? In this case the only value of the Earth would be to the scientists that study ecosystems and primitive intelligence. And they would have no more interest in interacting with humanity than a bug collector would with Spring-tail.

      In short, if they are here they are just collecting field date for academic papers and hiding themselves via advanced technology. Think of the second Next Generation movie – Star Trek: Insurrection – where Data reveals Federal researchers studying the locals from a cloaking field…

  3. what happens when there is no way, other than a chain of custody, to tell the difference between the original Mona Lisa and an exact copy?


  4. I heard this from someone who crafted reproduction Baroque flutes (actually one-key system flutes or what a lot of people would call wooden flutes — the reproductions he was specializing in came from what properly would be called the Classical era in music history). The dude was totally serious about what would be called “period” musical instruments, so I believed that he hung out with people who would know these things.

    The Stradivarious and other Cremona violins, to his explanation, were seemingly patched-together creations with liberal applications of the glue brush, representative of pre-machine tool hand workmanship. He went on to explain that in original form that they were “delicate, sweet-sounding Baroque-era instruments.” What happened during the Romantic era (say, mid 1800’s) is that they were “torn down”, much heavier necks were applied, and much heavier and higher-tension strings were applied to get that “big, concert hall sound.” Part of this was a sociological revolution of what we call “classical” music moving beyond the courts of princes and generic rich guys and being offered to the emerging middle classes in public settings.

    So I was told that the original part to these things is the bodies — the rest of those instruments is something their creators would not recognize. Sorta like dropping a big-block V8 into an MG Roadster and beefing up some suspension parts to try to handle it. That the Stradivarius and other Cremona violins have the reputation they have may be an accident of history as these violins are in a form their creators had not envisioned.

    As to duplicating them with the CNC or the solid printer or the whatever, my flute-maker friend had colleagues and competitors that cranked out wooden flutes on CNC lathes, but there is a kind of tuning process in their manufacturer, and he showed me the trade secret of how you would put this small wooden “resonator perturbation volume” on a slim wire inside the flute, play the flute, and remove small amounts of material to get the sound you want.

    Given that wood has a lot of natural variation anyway, and given the seeming slapdash workmanship of these violins, the Cremona makers may not have cared about getting high dimensional tolerances to some optimum violin design. Rather, they may have put their efforts into tuning these instruments my shaving off a little here, sanding off a little there, and their genius was not so much in the “hardware” but in the “tuning.” Kinda like Roger Penske.

    1. Given that wood has a lot of natural variation anyway

      Presumably, the particles used in a 3D printer would have better quality control, although this is still a consideration.

      Star Trek glossed over similar problems with the replicators. There were a number of episodes where someone handed Geordi a part that was broken or worn out, and he immediately said that he would “take it down to engineering and replicate a replacement.”

      There’s a similar real-world example from the Cold War. When US intelligence got its hands on one particular Soviet artillery piece, they discovered that it had extremely poor tolerances. The reason, they eventually discovered, was that the gun had been reverse-engineered from a US weapon, but the unit which the Soviets stole and copied was worn out and on its way back to the depot for refurbishment!

      The moral of the story is, be careful what you replicate.

  5. Maybe the Star Trek analogy is not the Replicator. Rather it is that fuddy-duddy defense attorney who hung on “to real books” — the episode where Kirk was before a Court Martial for allegedly sacrificing a crew member by cutting his observation pod off too soon.

    1. I want a Holodeck

      Really? The most buggy, dangerous piece of video-game hardware known to mankind? Have the safety protocols ever not failed?

      my Adrian Barbeaubot!

      Would that be a robot that looks like Adrienne Barbeau’s brother?

  6. George O. Smith covered the implications of this well in his short story “Pandora’s Millions” in his “Venus Equilateral” collection in the 1940’s. I would recommend it to anyone interested in the potential societal impact. Then, like a good science fiction author should, he goes on to discuss the likely societal impact hundreds of years in the future when the technology matures to the point of being able to duplicate humans in the short story “Epilogue: Identity” that closes the series. If you are interested used copies of the book are available via Amazon and you could help Rand by buying it 🙂

    In terms of the impact on space settlement, the development of advanced 3D printers will greatly reduce the spacelift needs for space settlement, rendering CATS as a moot point when all you will need to lift from Earth are just humans, their personal belongings and biological seed stock.

  7. As a side note, this statement is interesting.

    [[[Crucially, the images show the density of the wood all the way through, allowing a CNC machine to carve out copies of each section, with different woods used to match the differing densities. ]]]

    This would seem to support the theory that the increased density of wood resulting from the Little Ice Age contributed to the sound of the Stradivarius.

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