This week’s Economist has a very interesting survey of the future of wireless technology, which assesses progress towards ubiquitous computing and “the internet of things” – the idea that in the near future pretty well every artefact will carry its own computing power, able to sense its environment and communicate wirelessly with other artefacts and computer systems. The introductory article and the (rather useful) list of sources and links (including the book by Adam Greenfield – Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing – whose title I’ve appropriated for my post) are freely available; for the other seven articles you need a subscription (or you could just buy a copy from the newstand).
Evolutionary nanotechnology is likely to contribute to these developments in at least two ways; by making possible a wide range of sensors able to detect, for example, very small concentrations of specific chemicals in the environment, and, through technologies like plastic electronics, by making possible the mass-production of rudimentary computing devices at tiny cost. Even with current technology, these developments are sure to raise privacy and security issues, but equally may make possible unimagined benefits in areas such as health and energy efficiency. The Economist’s survey finishes on an uncharacteristically humble note: “There is no saying how it will be used, other than it will surprise us.”