Libertecture

Second Post: On Architecture, Technology and Liberty

Is this the only 3d printed product that libertarians care about?

Is this the only 3d printed product that libertarians care about?

This post, the second in a three-part series in which I aim to lay the groundwork for the theoretical argument of this blog, will address the growing relevance of libertarian ideology in the advancement of technology.

Technology and Liberty:

Society has taken a weird fork in the road—weird, because it’s taken both of the paths. On one hand, policy in many areas of life, including money, communications privacy, and personal weaponry, has become more controlling and more intrusive as politicians seek to know who is talking to whom, what we’re earning (and buying), and whether we have the means to push back against the authorities doing all that snooping. But on the other hand, technology increasingly empowers individuals to evade surveillance and restrictions, hide and transfer funds, and acquire or even manufacture forbidden goods, including firearms, without regard to laws dictated from above. Some of these technologies, such as encryption, have already had an enormous impact, while 3D printers and cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, are only starting to make waves. But this growing divergence between what we can do and what our rulers want us to do may be a portent of an accelerating technology-fueled cold civil war. [1]

-J.D. Tuccille, “In the Fight for Freedom, Technology Gives Individuals an Edge Over Governments,” Reason.com, May 7, 2013

The relationship between technology and freedom has been the subject of much debate in 2013, but, as J.D. Tuccille notes in his article for Reason Magazine, in many ways it remains unclear whether the former will help or hinder the latter. Following Edward Snowden’s revelations regarding the NSA’s massive cyber-surveillance campaign and the unprecedented proliferation of drone strikes under the Obama administration, it has become increasingly clear that not all technology serves to liberate the masses. Yet there is still reason for those of us concerned with individual liberty to be optimistic about technological advances. Tuccille points to three technologies in particular which have the most potential to promote a culture of freedom: encryption, 3d printing, and Bitcoin. These technologies, along with the rise of social media and the open source movement, threaten to overturn the traditional power structure that has long been an enemy of libertarians and freedom fighters both at home and abroad.

When prompted to respond to the growing trend of 3d printing, libertarians often cite the 3d-printed gun as the most relevant example of how the technology relates to their political beliefs. At the time of writing this, a search on Reason.com for “3d printed gun” returns no less than 80 results, all posted in the last 18 months. But while this controversial issue is certainly an important topic for those concerned with gun control policy, it undermines the role of new technology as it applies to the production and distribution of everyday products. Companies like Shapeways are currently redefining the market for goods ranging from Christmas ornaments and phone cases to robotic hands and eyes, allowing users to purchase products from a large community of freelance designers or upload their own designs. This new model for manufacturing and selling physical products based on digital designs is revolutionary due to the relative lack of barriers to enter the market. As printing technology continues to develop, it is becoming increasingly clear that the patent and copyright laws already challenged by the rise of music piracy, video streaming, and open source software must be either adapted or completely eliminated to facilitate the free flow of information in the digital age.

Bitcoin and encryption, two technologies intended to obscure one’s digital identity, provide an interesting counterpoint to the rise of the social internet. Our generation is still grappling with the implications of social media sites like Facebook and the surveillance tactics of the NSA. This loss of privacy may be a small price to pay for the benefits of ubiquitous information and communication, but encryption and cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are evidence that technology can still be used to protect individual liberty. These technologies recently captured the public’s attention due to its association with the anonymous online black market Silk Road, which used TOR online privacy software, Bitcoin-only payments and PGP encryption for sending personal information such as mailing addresses. Since the site was shut down and its founder, outspoken Libertarian Ross William Ulbricht aka Dread Pirate Roberts, was arrested on October 2nd, Bitcoin has seen unprecedented growth, with the price of one coin currently floating around $760.

However, Libertarian’s need not only concern themselves with technology that hides one’s identity from the man. Social media is an incredibly powerful tool for the distribution of political ideas and can serve to check the expansion of the government’s power. Encryption can enable groups of individuals to communicate and collaborate without permission from the government, but the secretive nature of such technology also prevents them from achieving widespread influence. On the other hand, the universality of social media enables the mainstream to collectively enact change on virtually any scale, from small fundraising campaigns to revolutionary movements like Arab Spring. Add to this the possibilities of a market driven by digital fabrication technology like 3d printing, and it is clear that technology will play a critical role in politics for some time. It is up to those of us who value the libertarian ideals of free minds and free markets to use this technology for the advancement of individual liberty.

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