ISSP What is living technology? Why should you care? How will ISSP help?

You might know that reconfigurable chips have become widespread in electronics and that personalized medicine reflecting our individual genetic makeup. You might know that millions of people have small robots moving through their homes performing routine domestic chores like vacuuming without our supervision. You might know that new social networks like Facebook have emerged and are spreading across the world-wide-web, adapting and evolving in directions unanticipated by their creators or users. But how are these developments connected? And why should you care?

We at the Initiative for Science, Society, and Policy (ISSP) believe that these examples all illustrate a new emerging wave of technology. Recent innovations in biotechnology, nanotechnology, information technology, and automated manufacturing now enable a new, bottom-up approach to engineering autonomous devices that accomplish complex functions. We call this technology “living” in order to emphasize that it’s value arises from its life-likeness. Just like familiar life all around us, living technology repairs itself, grows and reproduces, adapts and evolves. It is because it is so life-like that living technology will become so powerful and will impact our lives so profoudly.

What forms of living technology will arise in the future? We can only guess. Medical doctors in the future might use micro-robots to protect us from encroaching heart disease. Managers in the future might use virtual personal assistants to prioritize and oversee their routine communications. Communities in the future might use distributed webs of intelligent and adaptive software tools to anticipate and manage local strategies for green and sustainable living. The possibilities for living technology are wide open.

Autonomous technology with adaptive intelligence can make us more free and creative, but it also requires that we master new responsibilities. To see what makes all of the different kinds of living technology so powerful, we must understand the life-like properties that unify them.

ISSP advocates scientific social responsibility. Because we believe living technology is going to impact ourselves and our children so significantly, we are taking the initiative to create an opportunity for society to discuss this new emerging trend. ISSP will:

- Raise awareness of the broader implications of living technology.

- Catalyze an informed and responsible on-going public conversation about living technology.

- Create tools and resources to help stakeholders understand the issues surrounding living technology.