May 9th, 2013
09:58 AM ET

The promise and peril of 3D printing

3D printers have been around for a while, used in industry for rapid prototyping.

But the promise and peril of 3D printing really came to the fore this week, after that shocking announcement from the Texas-based "Defense Distributed" which claimed it has successfully fired the world's first gun made by a 3D printer.

Thanks to cheaper 3D printer models, the technology is available to anyone with around a thousand dollars to spare.

Here's how it works. Instead of using ink like regular inkjet printers, 3D printers use materials like plastic. They take a digital image that you can create using modeling software on a computer, and then print it out building up layer upon layer of material to create complex solid objects.

Toys, car parts, even mini human organs have been 3D printed by manufacturers and scientists who've been using the technique for decades.

How far can the technology go? What will 3D printers be able to do for us 10 years from now? And is it an advance that needs to be regulated today?

In the video clip above, News Stream contributor Nicholas Thompson of the NewYorker.com weighs in on the 3D printing debate.