A few decades ago, most people suffering from partially clogged arteries had to undergo bypass surgery to alleviate their coronary problems. That changed with the advent of the Roto-Rooter procedure known as angioplasty and micromachined stents that then kept arteries propped open. The medical industry went one step further recently by offering drug-releasing stents that help prevent life-threatening clots from forming after implantation.
In the not-too-distant future, you may chat with friends by VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol, an alternative to traditional phone lines that is no doubt giving traditional telecommunication companies nightmares. By 2010, your productivity may be monitored by your computer while you telecommute in a business world where information technology has replaced most administrators and accountants.
Many of us adapt to changes, but how many anticipate them? Futurists Ian Pearson and Michael Lyons argue in “Business 2010” that the near-term temblor set off by technology’s tectonic shifts can be foreseen today. They apply their insights as business consultants and strategists in computing, telecom, and information technology to paint a picture of the unfolding decade and the impact it will have on industry and society.
Their speculations are grounded in the logical progression of the here and now, including IT-laced small tech in various forms. They make a point of explaining how these technologies can be used and misused, citing the tiny networked motes known as “smart dust” and nanotechnology in particular. I share their concerns, but not their hysteria.
Networks of remote sensors the size of sand or dust are a possibility by 2010. Such networks could monitor buildings, regulating the environment and lighting to ensure energy efficiency. Or they could be scattered in everyone’s home as spies for despots. Pearson and Lyons rightly emphasize that these invisible technologies are dangerous in the wrong hands, and care must be taken to ensure privacy.
But like many IT types, they overlook the inherent difficulty of nanotechnology. Most people would agree that nanotechnology poses a significant threat if put in the hands of terrorists and other “evil doers.” Some might concur with the pair when they state “nanotechnology and artificial intelligence are progressing down a long path towards doomsday weaponry.”
That that weaponry could consist of a “bacterium that integrates DNA-based biological life with synthetic computing technology,” and is “invisibly small and could self reproduce,” — well, maybe, if the nanotech is inside (otherwise we have a scale problem, since bacteria are mammoth in the nanoworld) and myriad logistical problems vexing today’s nanotechnologists get resolved.
Pearson and Lyons then argue that regulation of nanotechnology must be considered to protect against such nanobacs. Is that the ETC Group with its green goo scenario whispering in the background?
“With the nuclear threat, policing was fairly straightforward; it is not easy to hide the equipment and buildings needed to refine the nuclear materials. These new technologies, however, do not need large equipment. Some of the threats could, in principle, be realized by someone working in a garden shed.”
That would take a really sophisticated gardener and a spectacular shed, because nano is not some concoction that can blossom in a shack.