Inspired in part by David Friedman, I am this year scrapping my normal seminar on “current legal issues in law and technology” and replacing it instead with a seminar more focused on the future. Specifically, this year, I want to identify technologies and social norms that might very likely change in the next five to ten years, and I want to think through how those changes will affect law, business, and culture.
Imagine, for example, that in five years every product comes with a working RFID tag that announces via radio signal what the product is. What business models will change as a result, and in turn what legal structures and social norms will give way? Imagine instead that financial transactions shift fully away from paper money and toward online intermediaries like PayPal. What banking rules will come under pressure, and what implications are there for other aspects of society? What if every city does what Philadelphia and Chicago are doing, namely rolling out government-sponsored WiFi Internet access that covers the downtown area? Or what happens when a large percentage of the workforce starts telecommuting across international political boundaries?
I want to focus primarily on technologies and norms that could very likely happen within a ten-year timeframe. So, for instance, I would be interested in thinking about how the world would change were computer memory to become so cheap that every consumer product became capable of learning over time, but I am not at all interested in thinking about how things might change were scientists to finally beam Scotty up. Moreover, I want to focus primarily on technologies that will matter to business and economics, health care, taxation, and employment.
For now, though, I am looking for good topic ideas along the lines of what I have mentioned here. What comes to mind as the biggest looming technological advancements likely to come into existence in the next ten years or so, and how might they change law, economics, business and society more generally? (Feel free to email privately or to use the comments thread, whichever seems easier.)