Contextualizing 3D Printing: Historical Antecedents and Ethical Concerns for the Future

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Mistry, Kavita
3D Printing , Historical Antecedents , Ethics , 3D Scanning , Replication , Cultural Heritage
The present mania for 3D printing within the domain of cultural heritage presents this technology, along with 3D scanning, as a fundamentally new mode of production and replication. Its exponents would claim that it is so new that no real ethics of its application can be thoroughly considered until it becomes a routine part of practice among archaeologists, museum curators, and conservators. This approach obscures the fact that replication within art, by methods such as the ancient technique of bronze casting or manual copying using a camera obscura, engaged the technologies of their time in the same way 3D printing does today. Using the philosophy of technology provided by Martin Heidegger in his essay The Question Concerning Technology, I will argue that 3D printing should be viewed in the context of these historical practices, and I will examine specific ethical concerns about 3D printing projects that are ongoing today. My own experience with 3D printing has shown me that currently, this practice has an undetermined position on a broad spectrum of cultural production that requires considerable human intervention and will continue to do so with further advances in this technology. In addition to understanding the technology of 3D printing as a form of replication, the products of this technology will be discussed in terms of digital colonization by examining the proposal to reconstruct the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan, and the 3D printing of the now destroyed Palmyra Arch by the Institute of Digital Archaeology. This paper will provide an opposing view on digital colonialism and present 3D printing as a new method to aid in knowledge acquisition with the printing of small-scale replicas of ancient artifacts and monuments for haptic learning experiences.
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