Wherever you turn at the moment there are claims (for another year running) that 3D printing is going to be one of the hot technologies of the coming 12 months. Many are predicting that over the coming year, we're going to see massive advances in the sector and widespread use.
It's a technology that has largely been on the periphery for consumers in recent years, partly due to costs and accessibility, but the phenomenon has become well embedded in industrial sectors - it's increasingly used to create stock machinery parts. But now it seems we may finally see private individuals able to print objects at a relatively affordable cost.
I think I even saw Maplin, a UK-based retailer, stocking 3D printers and a plethora of printed objects online for people to purchase like ocarinas, jewellery and bicycles.
Like all new technology, it captures the minds (and wallets) of people everywhere. I've been party to a number of conversations about the potential of 3D printing and whether, in the coming years, we'll be able to make science fiction a reality.
Sometime in 2014 the Guardian's Alex Hern reported on a company promising "to allow users to print hamburgers -- although they still require cooking the old-fashioned way". Whilst in June 2015 USA Today announced that "the once-futuristic 3D printer is close to becoming a reality in food preparation"
There are incredible implications should we ever be able to print meat in our homes. I don't claim to be a scientist, so am approaching it as a layman, but surely it could solve hunger crises around the world if it were to be made a reality? On the flipside, it could also lead to a widespread rise in the price of 'natural' meat and change the way we interact with animals.
I was recently musing with a good friend I work with about some of the stranger implications of printing food, which led us to talk about how it might impact vegetarians or religious groups who have strict dietary laws like Halal and Kosher.
The question we had is whether artificially-printed meat could be eaten by a practising Jew or Muslim. Both religions place a lot of emphasis on how the meat is prepared and the process it undergoes to make it onto your plate, but in this case, the meat didn't come from a living animal. I can't imagine the Qur'an or the Torah envisioned an age where mankind would be able to bypass the laws of the natural world!
Well, it made for a fun lunchtime discussion.
Personally, I'd suspect that both religions would ultimately rule that 3D printed meat is not Kosher/Halal. Among the reasons why would perhaps be fairly simple idea; Rabbis have in the past ruled that activities as not being permissible on the chance that it could be misinterpreted by others or lead to others to do 'wrong'. For example eating Kosher food in a non-Kosher restaurant might give the impression at a glance that the food in the establishment was fine to eat. Equally here, eating a burger that's been artificially printed could be misinterpreted or lead another person to buy a non-kosher burger, without realising that the one they saw had been printed.
More importantly, religion will have to re-examine what it means for food to be permissible to eat and what makes it so - whether it's the process or the animal etc. Our conversation moved on to vegetarians, where it's perhaps a little more difficult to predict what attitudes may be, because vegetarians are not a homogenous group that abide to a particular set of binding rules. But without any animals being harmed perhaps some people may be more open to eating it.
As ever, when we look at new technology and start to think about how it could change our lives, it can open up some new avenues of discussion and debate. It will be really exciting to see how religion comes to terms with 3D printing should the printing of food become widespread and how, or if, communities are able to reconcile the two.