The Digital Human: CSIRO Sci+Tech in the City Series IV: Report

Did you know that in fifty years time you’ll probably have a full sized 3D print out of yourself?

This is the second time in a week that someone has said to me that “in the future” I will be 3D printed. That we will all be 3D printed, and that this will be for medical purposes… well that’s what they think.

Twice in a week is at least two more times in a lifetime than I ever reasonably expected to hear somebody say anything along these lines. Time to look at it seriously then.

The story goes that two Melbourne engineers and a surgeon, with a penchant for not paralysing people’s faces, have collaborated in what amounts to their spare time to create a new, highly scaleable, truly disruptive venture bringing just in time manufacturing to the production of replacement human body parts. This feat was achieved in little over two and a bit years, in what seems to have amounted to little more than their spare time.

I feel like an underachiever…

In the future, prostheses for your various bits can and will be printed on demand, tailored to your physiology and you and your surgeon can practice fitting said bits to 3D printed you, before moving on to the real thing.


Rightly or wrongly, I can’t help wondering whether the board game ‘Operation’  has been the inspiration, and whether, in the future, I can upgrade to a version of me that’s able to substitute at work and parties (‘Surrogates‘ styley) and/or complete domestic chores while real me takes the day off to practice surgical procedures?

Less whimsically, the health network business improver in me smells disruption. If I had money to invest in this I would

From go to woah: the team dreamt up, drafted, prototyped, cadaver tested and then successfully implanted a 3D printed titanium jaw bone that was the perfect shape and size for the recipient, and custom-made to avoid nerve damage in such a short space of time that the major impediment to widespread global uptake is the time it will take to prove that over time this is a better, smarter option than the small, medium and large off the rack options currently being used.

This is a lean mean, efficiency gain, a risk minimiser and a medical advance in one feel swoop.

It’s  just in time manufacturing. For body parts.

I’m impressed by the implications for hospital budgets, equipment and inventory, and I wonder how I can insert myself into this to make it happen.

I contain myself and I don’t ask any of my more flippant questions including whether jaw prosthetics could be made in glass and if this would be a good thing. (I’m not a doctor, but I do believe that glass is inert. Which begs the question, would the material live up to its reputation or not?)

Key note @ Testing Grounds

Deakin University Anthropocene Campus

I managed to arrive at ‘The Digital Human’ only a little bit late, due to being at one of the most fascinating exchanges about the role of humans and the ethics and occasional success of human interventions in the environment that it was possible to witness.

As part of “M/Others and Future Humans an art exhibit curated by the Laboratory for Aesthetics and Ecology and The Multispecies Salon. Motherhood is being transformed in times of environmental crisis, rapid population growth, and technological innovation. Genomics, biotechnology, and robotics are transforming mothers, babies, and dreams about the future. Emergent technologies are changing what it means to be human” a synthetic biologist (Claudia Vickers) and an award winning artist (Patricia Piccinini).

More about that later, but bringing the arts and sciences together is one of the dominant themes of events in the Tech and the City Calendar.


Digital Humans was co-presented by CSIRO Data61, Risklab Australia and the Australian Society of Operations Research


Simulation modelling of the human body and its internal processes is a fascinating topic and there’s a wealth of applied research expertise across Melbourne. Sci+Tech in the City this week has four speakers covering sports performance, rehabilitation, food and digestion, and workplace safety: Kay Crossley (Latrobe University), Dan Billing (DST Group), Peter Lee (University of Melbourne) and Simon Harrison (Data61).

Register here