Thursday, June 30, 2005

When Pipes Peak

Mark Anderson's latest essay "When Pipes Peak" is chock-full of provocative stuff. If you don't have a subscription to Mark's "Strategic News Services" newletter, you can sign up for a free trial here.

When Pipes Peak

I'm sure that people realized they were going through a major transition in technology during the early 1900's, with cars on the left, horses and buggies on the right, and railroads connecting them. It must have been a strange and invigorating feeling, knowing you were living in the midst of radical, important change, and knowing that you would probably live to see the revolution completed.

Today is no different, except that there are more of these transitions occurring at one time. We're moving from a time in medicine when the General Practitioner had almost zero diagnostic tools, to a time when she'll be able to diagnose down to the bug, and then down to the gene, in her office or clinic.

In materials, we are still mostly working with industrial revolution metals and minerals, plus plastics and stressed concrete, but carbon nanotubes are coming into production, and it won't be long before we'll design materials atom by atom for their electrical, optical and strength properties.

In physics, after nearly a century of theoretical doldrums, we are about to discover that everything is built from the inherent properties and symmetries of otherwise-empty space; this will mark the greatest revolution since quantum mechanics.

In biology, we are confronted by our ignorance of how cells work, even as we manipulate their genes - with plenty of proof that genetically modified crops, even under lock and key, somehow re-enter the natural world, not just next to the lab fields, but, for example, in central Mexico, the source of maize genetics. Now we are about to expand our toolsets, without having yet expanded our understanding, ethics nor protections, apace.

Even so, this is bound to be the Century of Life, as our understanding of molecular biology and genetics allows us to approach understanding what life is, and how it works. (In this sense, it is the best of times, and the worst of times, to quote Sidney Carton.)

And so it is also with computing and communications. Wherever you turn, you see a revolution in process...

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Honest really, last time I saw him there he was right in front of me, next to the steaks singing "Love me Tender".

He said to me (his lip was only slightly curled) "Boy, you need to get yourself a shiny, new lcd tv to go with that blue suede sofa of yours.

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