So the year is 2150 and the first nanobot replicator has been released on the market. They cost about $150 and can produce a cubic foot of material. They can replicate any object that is scanned or has a schematic for. This opens many problems. Anyone can now put in dirt and get a full meal or a device. People will rush to get the devices and will no longer have to work. Since anyone can now get rich using dirt by producing food and clothes how can businesses still exist? What will happen to supply and demand?
Digital Rights Management
Behold, the Super-Duper Car! (© 2500, Yoyodyne Inc. Patent pending. All pirates will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.)
If this works anything like a Star Trek replicator, raw commodities will become worthless. There's nothing you can do about that.
However, here's the thing: the replicators require a pattern to replicate. As a result, somebody will need to make these patterns.
For example, computer companies like Dell and HP will stop mass-producing computers almost immediately. Instead, they will focus on developing new computers. The blueprints for these will, of course, have all sorts of patents, copyrights, and DRMs controlling them. In order to use these blueprints, consumers will have to buy a license from the company which holds the copyright.
In addition, replicators can only make stuff. As a result, meatbags will still be required to do other services like cleaning, butlering, and other service jobs. This also means that there will be practically no change in the music, sports, and entertainment industries.
Relative to your replicator-based armies, the answer is yes and no. Yes you can make infinite M16s and F32s; that's easy. However, there are two problems:
- You've still got to acquire and train meatbags to use these weapons.
- Because of (mumble mumble handwavium mumble mumble), you can't make WMDs.
As a result, land-based armies will be a few men in small-but-almost-indestructible mini-tanks which carry an insanely high amount of firepower. Sounds familiar...
EDIT: Relative to Mr. Hoagie's comment, copyright law will be much more strictly enforced, with violation of copyrights and other protections being a serious offense. Now that I think about it, this would be really good for GNU and other open-source activism groups.
According to my limited economical knowledge, with $150 for all your needs and most of your amenities given, businesses would crash quite rapidly, unless it took a long time to replicate something.
If it takes longer to fabricate a T-shirt than to go to a local store and get it, then businesses wouldn't crash as rapidly. If most replicators are small (Cubic foot or 4) then it's limited for personal use, causing manufacturing plants to still be a necessity.
Objects like jewelry or precious elements would require MUCH more dirt to produce due to how much of a trace element they are, so it isn't a simple "Bag of dirt provides all my needs for a month".
CAD business will most certainly booming due to the desire to fabricate new and never before heard of objects.
I don't know much about the nutritional contents of dirt, but this invention will allow you to turn moss/ lumber into salads+small quantity of meat and pretty much any protein into any protein.
It wouldn't put cooks out of a job; they will simply digitize their meals and sell the "Recipes" over the interweb to nano-fabs.
I have more that I can theorize, but I would assume that "Protein powder" etc would give significantly better results in terms of food output etc but don't have much time and can't try to explain more.
The effect on the economy would be quite limited. Around 80% of advanced countries’ economies already consists of services, so you’d only be affecting the other 20% — or probably less again, in another 130 years. A nanobot replicator can’t cut your hair or give a music concert or design a video game or write a book or advise on a corporate takeover or clean a bathroom or sell your house. We’re already very close to a post-scarcity economy as far as food and manufactured goods are concerned.