Everything is information - part 1

Ray Kurzweil speaks of a nanotechnology future where the valuable aspect of a product is its information component. Will that sit well with those who believe there is no such thing as "intellectual property?"

I'm on one of my periodic trips to Silicon Valley to visit the Microsoft IPTV mother ship. I'm pretty used to hopping into strange rental cars and figuring my way around an unfamiliar interior. What I'm not used to, however, is checking the speedometer as I'm speeding up the on-ramp to highway 101 towards San Francisco and seeing the needle hover around 120.

As it turns out, Avis rented me a car where everything is denominated in kilometers. It could be worse, though. I could be renting a car in Europe or Mexico with a speedometer denominated in miles.

Sharp verbal right turn...

On planes, I'm more reader than talker, and one of the books I'm reading is "The Singularity is Near" by Ray Kurzweil. It's a fascinating attempt to predict the future evolution of technology and the human species. Using analysis of historical trends in technology, he predicts that artificial intelligence will occur sooner than we think. He also considers human technological progress to be an extension of biological evolution and predicts that it will change what it means to be human within very short timeframes in ways that will drive the human / technology evolutionary process even faster (smarter post-humans innovate faster with every generation). All that, and I'm only 100 pages into a 600 page book.

I'm currently reading a section that discusses the evolutionary aspects of economic systems (among other things), which is where I found the following quote:

It is important to point out that a key implication of nanotechnology is that it will bring the economics of software to hardware -- that is, to physical products (pg. 102, Viking Press)

Kurzweil touched upon that topic several times in the previous 100 pages, but that phrasing of the concept sufficiently jogged the thought processes that I decided to stop reading and think about it.

Basically, Kurzweil is saying that nanotechnology will make production of physical products as easy and low-cost as per-unit production of new copy of a software product. Granted, raw materials in greater quantities will be needed to produce a car rather a computer.  Even so, once nanotechnology enables the construction of high-level constructs from constituent nano-parts, per-unit costs will be so low (raw materials are inexpensive) that the economics of the production of physical product will approach that of software.

This means that the valuable aspect of a product won't be the physical asset itself, as an exact clone can be produced a million times over at minimal cost in a world of nanotechnology. Rather, what really matters is the information required to build the product.

Everything -- including physical products, once nanotechnology-based manufacturing becomes a reality in about 20 years -- is becoming information.

That got me to wondering: would foes of the concept of intellectual property start to demand the the "chair" information, or the car design information, or the chip-design information or the unique finger-triggered navigation system on the iPod information (which is protected by patents), be as free and unencumbered as the software, music, and video information the "ownership" of which they consider wrong?

Next up: The value of intellectual property - part 2.