Of Wikileaks and Nanotech

I downloaded it from the freaking Internet and now I will destroy the world...

Discussing the Wikileaks revelations in the context of internet security this morning perhaps shows the trajectory that other emerging technologies will follow.

The Internet is not an emerging technology anymore, although many of its applications still are, but one of its key effects has been the shift of power from government and large organisations to the individual. Leaking hundreds of thousand of documents fifteen years ago would have required shifting and copying the contents of hundreds of thousands of manila folders, whereas now it just takes a few mouse clicks.

Similarly, technology innovation used to be the preserve of large organisations such as Bell Labs, IBM and Sony. While the dot com boom rewrote some of the rules, most other technologies still required labs and fabs (and billions of dollars of capital investment) to get to market.

But in 2010 we are seeing the beginning of a new era where smaller organisations are empowered by information technology, and the vast resources needed to synthesize and produce new materials can be increasingly replaced by modelling – and this is increasingly applying as much to life sciences as it does to the physical sciences.

As a result, technologies that required hundreds of people to develop can be produced by tens of people, and that number is falling all the time.

In the same way that Wikileaks has shifted the power away from governments and towards individuals, many other emerging technologies will follow the same path, allowing not just their development, but their proliferation too. All of this can occur ‘under the radar’ of existing regulatory frameworks, meaning that technology has the future potential to be as free and unregulated as information is today.


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