Thursday, February 8, 2007

A Transparent Society, Maybe

“The new Smart Nanobattery architecture promises an energy source that can be packaged in various configurations, with shelf life lasting decades, yet still able to be activated almost instantaneously on demand. Various battery designs based on this technology may deliver a new and unique component for system design across many fields, including defense, industrial and consumer electronics.” link

“…'next generation' computer chips which will see processors with mind-boggling memories the size of a grain of sand.”

“The new technology will have military uses with tiny spy planes the size of flies able to collect and send back information over hundreds of miles.” link

OK, those were some semi-random headlines gleaned from recent nanotech news. Semi-random since I was looking for technologies that will enable ubiquitous surveillance, but picked from amongst dozens of others that fit the “nano” mold. And keep in mind that there have been literally hundreds of similar improvements in various supporting technologies in the past few years. It seems probable that improvements along these lines will continue, and the rate at which these advances become part of “today’s technologies” will continue to increase.

So, we’ve got technologies that reduce the size of sensors, technologies that reduce the size of sensor batteries, and technologies that reduce the size and increase the capacity of memory modules. What does it all mean? It means that sometime in the not-to-distant future, perhaps 5 to 10 years from now, we will have the ability to construct cheap (nearly free) sensors that will be difficult if not impossible for the human eye to detect. These sensors will have the ability to detect everything from conversations to chemicals, and send their findings hundreds, if not thousands of miles (using satellite uplinks) to whoever is monitoring them.

What do we do about it? I don’t know. What I do know is that this “possible future” will be an issue, and probably one of the most socially disruptive of all the near term “nanotechnologies.” (A better term is “nanotechnology-enabled technology”)

In closing, I’d like to refer back to a note I made earlier about David Brin’s compelling argument in The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? Brin argues for a more open society; “one in which those in power would be required to adhere to the same "openness" standards as their constituents, where the authorities are monitored as well as monitoring.” Maybe this is the answer; I don’t know, but it is a place to start the debate; a debate that needs to begin soon, and needs to include all stakeholders.

No comments: