Wednesday, July 30

Too Late, is Already Taken

Interesting story about HP's nanotechnology initiatives:

HP's grand vision: measure everything

Imagine walking down the supermarket aisle with a cheap device you could hold up to a tomato. If the sensor detects a pesticide residue, you'd know the "organic" label is a lie. Similar tools could track the chemical content of water in a stream, telling you if there was lead contamination and when it got there, or keep constant watch on a bridge and tell if a structural steel beam was at risk of collapse.

Such products are almost certain to become common in coming decades, according to Stan Williams, who heads Hewlett-Packard's Information and Quantum Systems Laboratory. He aims to develop a panoply of microscopic-scale nanotech devices that will be able to measure essentially anything - and at low cost to boot. Viruses, bacteria, the chemical composition of molecules, vibration, moisture levels, particular sounds - these are just some of the things that the super-cheap devices he envisions will be able to detect.

The Internet is great at collecting massive amounts of information. Search engines are great at tracking and sorting massive amounts of information. The WWW is great at giving visual context to massive amounts of information. Mobile technologies are great at collecting/distributing that information anywhere we want. Imagine worldwide tracking of carbon emissions in realtime, viewable via Google Earth.

So it will be interesting to see how these technologies jump the shark into the public space. Toss some in the fridge to automatically add items to your webgrocer shopping list when the food starts to go bad? Paint some on your lawnmower to let you know when it is time to fertilize the grass?

And if marketers start implanting them in their products, and network them together into a massive consumer database (think really small RFID), what research insights and marketing programs might be spawned? At least the privacy groups will then have something bigger to worry about than behavioral ad serving.

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