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  • Writer's pictureMeghdut RoyChowdhury

Technology: Unlocking the Potential of Pandora's Box.

A Controversial Backdrop

Every life-altering invention comes with its fair share of controversies, and emerging technologies have not been any different. With the World Economic Forum releasing its list of top 10 emerging technologies for 2015, drones, 3D printing and precise genetic-engineering techniques suddenly came into the spotlight and quite predictably, the debates have followed.

The speculations about a forthcoming Industrial Revolution, and a possible 25 billion smart devices in existence by 2020 according to estimates by international research firm, Gartner, has only managed to add fuel to the fire.


Humankind has never taken to any kind of genetic engineering, sitting down. Conventional genetic alterations had already caused enough controversy to begin with, until new techniques emerged that would now allow us to directly “edit” the genetic code of organisms in order to make them, for example, more adaptable to certain environmental conditions. Add to this the fact that now all 3.2 million base pairs of DNA which make up the human genome can be sequenced in a matter of minutes and delivered to your phone, so questions of protection of this personal information naturally come up time and again. With intense debates on stem cells and embryonic research to heated political and scientific arguments on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the world of bioresearch has not been able to escape public scrutiny over the past decade.

Flying Rob

t was  predicted that more than 1 million drones would be given as presents during the 2015 festive season, causing quite some anxiety to the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA).The increased use of drones in our daily lives over the last few years has caused a lot of speculation and raised concerns from a variety of authorities, including political players , members of legislation as well as the common public. According to a study conducted by Pew Research in association with the FAA, 42% of Americans are “very concerned” about the possible use of drones by law enforcement for surveillance. In Europe, drone activity has increased significantly, but under a fragmented regulatory framework, as opposed to stricter regulations in the US. Basic national safety rules apply, but the rules differ across the EU and a number of key safeguards are not addressed in a coherent way.

Though a majority of patent activity has been undertaken in the defense sector, a thorough analysis of the legislations surrounding civilian drones is becoming increasingly important owing to the substantial momentum that non-military drones are gaining. According to a study conducted by IAM, by 2024, the civilian market for drones would be growing at a proportionally faster rate than the military market. Recently, four major drone manufacturers came together and created their own industry advocacy group, focused on unmanned aircrafts for the consumer market. This “Drone Manufacturers Alliance” comes at a time when the drone market has grown large enough to demand a separate entity to address policy issues for the consumer market exclusively. These small drone makers were previously part of the drone industry’s most visible lobbying group, UAV Coalition, along with companies like Google and Amazon in the commercial drone space. To sum it all up, despite an exponential increase in drone usage from traffic control to package delivery and search and rescue missions, the sector is still too new and dynamic to draw firm conclusions as to how it will develop and what lies ahead in terms of a globally normalized drone regulation.

3D Printing

On the one hand, 3D Printers open up a whole new world of possibilities in terms of reduced waste reliance on corporations, thus enabling grassroots level manufacturers. On the other hand they pose a serious threat to the environment by hogging energy, emitting unhealthy airborne particles while bringing gun control and bio-printing laws into question. Also, the possibility of creating 3D printed drugs and non-controllable substances could result in national security risks in the future. “Additive manufacturing” using 3D printers could potentially jeopardize the whole patent system. 3D printing provides a platform to print out physical objects based on Computer Aided Designs (CADs) which can be transferred online. Thus, exclusive rights for new inventions that are protected by present patent laws could become defunct thanks to the advent of this emerging technology, thereby reducing their value for the patent owner.

Connected devices

According to Gartner, there were 3.8 billion smart, connected devices in existence, as of the end of 2015. This includes smart cars, smoke detectors, smartwatches, industrial robots, streetlights, heart monitors, fitness bands and even tennis racquets and toasters, all transmitting tiny amounts of data to us, each other and the cloud. While connectivity on such a mass scale means billions of lives becoming easier and people spending progressively less time on manual labor, it also comes with its share of obstacles. The different languages of inter-device communication does not even feature in the top tier of possible barriers to a Matrix-like future, with security concerns and regulation issues taking up the top spots. Also questions pertaining to intellectual property pose a serious threat to data ownership concerns.

Wearables and Internet of Things (IoT)

The rise of wearable technology and new frontiers being created in the way humans and computers interact through Perceptual Computing or the Internet-of-Things (IoT) has fueled hopes of completely remote-controlled households, simpler shopping, lower household bills, and lifestyle trackers embedded in everyday clothing. And most surprisingly, it is not just young people who are most likely to adopt an emerging technology. According to the Waggener Edstorm Wearables Survey of 2014, young people ages 18-34 and those 45+ are most likely to purchase wearables. But as more and more consumers purchase wearable technology, they unknowingly expose themselves to both potential security breaches and ways that their data may be legally used by companies without consumer awareness.

“And then there was Hope”

Even with all the problems listed above looming over the horizon, emerging technologies as well as connected devices are already altering spaces ranging from health care and agriculture to manufacturing and media. Consumers are rapidly becoming a digitized culture and wearables have barely even scratched the surface of their true potential. The entertainment industry is currently at the brink of a huge shift owing to Virtual Reality technology becoming increasingly more accessible. Genome-based treatments are providing new ways to customize therapeutic protocol and enhance our control over diseases and medical treatments, thus creating the possibility of saving millions of lives.

Ultimately, our approach to legislation and regulation of these technologies will have widespread implications for our lives and for those of our future generations, not only for the sake of security or ethics, but for the very definition of human existence and equality of individuals.

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