Concluding Remarks Near Term Opportunities for eBusiness Infrastructure

So what are the near-term opportunities? The R&D community is engaged. From an R&D perspective, the five innovation ecosystems (university labs, government labs, corporate labs, venture capital backed start-ups, and nonprofit/nongovernment organizations) have already geared up initiatives in all the separate NBICS (nano-bio-info-cogno-socio) areas, somewhat less in socio, and cogno is perhaps secondary to neuro. However, what about real products and services coming to market and the converged NBICS as opposed to separate threads?

From a business perspective, a number of existing technology trends generally align with and are supportive of NBICS directions. One of the major forces driving the economy these days is the transformation of businesses into e-businesses. The e-business evolution (new agent) is really about leveraging technology to enhance all of the connections that make businesses run: connections to customers, connections to suppliers, connections between employees and the different organizations inside a business, and connections to government agencies, for example. Some aspects of the NBICS convergence can not only make people healthier, wealthier, and wiser, but can also make e-businesses healthier, wealthier, and wiser, as well. I suspect that while many futurists are describing the big impact of NBICS convergence on augmenting human performance, they are overlooking the potentially larger and nearer term impacts of NBICS convergence on transforming businesses into more complete e-businesses. The area of overlap between what is good for business and what is good for people is in my mind one of the first big, near term areas of opportunity for NBICS convergence. Improving human performance, like improving business performance will increasingly involve new interfaces to new infrastructures.

a) Communication infrastructure: The shift from circuits to packets and electronics to photonics, and the roll out of broadband and wireless will benefit both businesses and individuals.

b) Knowledge infrastructure: Knowledge management, semantic search, and natural language tools will make businesses and people act smarter.

c) Sensor infrastructure: Realtime access to vital information about the health of a person or business will be provided.

d) Simulation infrastructure: There will be a shift from in vitro to in silico biology for the design and screening of new drugs for people and new products for businesses.

e) Intellectual property, valuations and pricing, human capital infrastructure: Inefficiencies in these areas are a major drag on the economy overall.

f) Miniaturization, micromanipulation, microsensing infrastructure: Shrinking scales drive chip businesses and open new medical applications.

g) Computing infrastructure (grid - social): This is still emerging, but ultimately, computer utility grids will be an enormous source of computing power for NBICS efforts.

h) Computing infrastructure (autonomic - biological): The cost of managing complex technology is high; the autonomic borrows ideas from biological systems.

Already, IBM Research has begun to articulate some of the challenges and the promise of autonomic computing (http://www.research.ibm.com/autonomic/), which seeks to build a new generation of self-managing, self-regulating, and self-repairing information technology that has some of the advantages of living systems. As NBICS convergence happens, our information technology infrastructure will benefit, making many businesses more efficient and more viable.

Ultimately, NBIC convergence will lead to complete computational models of materials, genes, brains, and populations and how they evolve, forever improving and adapting to the demands of changing environments. A first step is to understand the way information is encoded and exchanged in each of these complex dynamic systems and to apply that new understanding to enhance each system. While this is an exciting undertaking, especially in light of recent advances in mapping the human genome, nanotechnology advances, and thirty some years of unabated miniaturization (Moore's Law) driving up computational capabilities, it is also a time to admit that this is still a multi-decade undertaking with lots of twists and turns in the road ahead. Better frameworks that help us inventory and organize the possibilities, as well as glimpse the ultimate goal of NBICS convergence, are still needed.

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