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Food for Legal Future Thought: Top 10 Emerging Technologies

A starting point for thinking about the legal future is to spot trends that may develop into scenarios with implications for law, legal practice, and legal education. Earlier this month the World Economic Forum did that for us in its announcement of the Top 10 Emerging Technologies for 2013. One can easily envision legal issues growing out of several of the trends:

  • OnLine Electric Vehicles: This involves using wireless technology to power and charge EVs while they move down the road. If the system is widely available, EV batteries can be smaller and the vehicle range extended. Of course, this will requires a massive infusion of new infrastructure in the form of the transmission system in the roads.
  • 3-D printing and remote manufacturing: 3-D printing is pretty cool, but already it has led people to ask about labor market implications, world trade implications, and patent and copyright protections. The concept of “open source” 3-D printing, while revolutionary for manufacturing, also would make possible the printing of operable guns with nothing more than a computer and a desktop 3-D printer.
  • Self-healing materials: Self-healing materials can repair themselves when cut, torn or otherwise damaged, with no human intervention. To the extent we begin to rely on them for health and safety, how will products liability law respond?
  • Energy-efficient water purification: focusing primarily on desalination technologies, massive use of sea water to respond to the growing water scarcity problem could pose ecological problems and present property law issues regarding access to and use of marine resources.
  • Carbon dioxide conversion and use: Going beyond capture ans sequestration technologies, bio-engineering research is forging into ways of converting CO2 to useable energy sources and other products.
  • Molecular level nutrition: protein synthesis research suggests ways of delivering products to alleviate malnutrition and enhance athletic performance.
  • Remote sensing: like the cars that park themselves, remote sensing is expanding in uses and soon will be available in compact forms to monitor body functions, provide vehicle-to-vehicle distance monitoring, monitor traffic to inform adaptive flow controls, and initiate responses such as insulin delivery.
  • Nanoscale drug delivery: micro-scale drug delivery, both in quantity and location, are nearing clinical utility. Nanoparticles could be targeted to adhere only to cancerous cells and deliver micro doses lethal to the cancer but having little impact on surrounding cells.
  • Organic electronics: Organic materials such as polymers can be used to print electronic circuitry with a simple ink-jet printer, vastly reducing the costs (though still less efficient than silicon)
  • Fourth generation nuclear power: Once-through nuclear reactors use 1 percent of the fuel’s energy potential. New technologies for recycling spent fuel and breeding new types of fissionable fuel are being tested in several countries.

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