Austin, TX 14:30

Cody Wilson is a 25-year-old law student and the designer of the first pistol that can be manufactured entirely with a 3D printer. © photo Lorenza Baroncelli

Introduction for the interview of Joseph Grima: Domus 971 (pdf)

In this moment of history, few things spark a mix of curiosity, fascination and fear like the convergence of firearms and 3d printers.

Yet our interest in Cody Wilson is not focused on his wilfully sensationalist approach to design. Rather, we were seeking an up-close and-personal encounter with something far more complex: Generation Y, technologically literate 25-yearolds belonging to groups such as Bitcoin and Anonymous, and all those crypto-anarchists who are creating a new digital subculture.

In other words, our mission was to gain an understanding—through Cody in person—of some of the changes occurring in our society. We therefore decided that I would spend a week with him, to experience his life first-hand. I was with Cody when the federal government ordered him to remove the files from his website, and while he was trying to work out who had really issued the order. He was afraid. It made me think: who is afraid of whom? The truth is that we are all scared of him, because he reawakens the most atavistic of human fears: the fear of death. At the same time, however, Cody exerts a force of attraction, because he feeds our desire for power.

DEFCAD, the non-profit organisation he founded, is the perfect tool for calling attention to a still-dormant and anaesthetised idea. When Cody has been discussed in recent months, the debate has largely centred on whether it is right to use arms.

Little has been said about our responsibility in the relationship with technology. The effects of the technological revolution initiated by “makers” and rapid prototyping still appear far o&, as if they belong more to science fiction than to reality. Cody, however, slams this revolution in our faces.

At root, the issue is not about the accessibility of weapons. Legally or illegally, anyone can get their hands on a firearm. Do a Google search for “home-made gun” and you’ll find dozens of pistol designs that are far easier to construct than
Cody’s 3D-printed Liberator. Wars have always been fought and guerrillas have always been armed. Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev learnt from the Web how to build a bomb.

The truth is that the culture of weapons fuels an industry that is constructed and financed by lobby groups that manufacture weapons. What limits the spread of homicidal rage has always been society’s sense of self-preservation: the simple—and ethical—awareness that killing is wrong.

To understand Cody and the crypto-anarchist movement we need a change of perspective. We need to become conscious that each individual can contribute towards altering the behaviour of the chaotic, non-linear system we live in by adding a degree of entropy into its initial conditions. All one has to do is introduce
a simple idea. This is the field of action in which DEFCAD, Bitcoin and the crypto-anarchists operate.

Technology is changing the world and rendering liberal democracies obsolete, along with the autocratic systems demonised by the West. The economic system that produced the nation states has run its course. We have entered the era of the digital economy. Technology is generating an urgent need for a new form of global governance that no longer speaks of countries or nations. DEFCAD is therefore only a symptom of a broader technological and digital transformation and the effect that this is having, and will have, on our daily lives.

Design and architecture constitute the way in which this reality creates itself: they are the translation into physical terms of our needs, our gestures and our political action. We mustn’t be afraid to talk about weapons, hackers and cyberspace. We also need to learn to introduce these ideas into the architectural debate—and talking with and about Cody seems like a good place to start.

(Article appeared in Domus 971)