“It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future,” says a proverb often attributed to Yogi Berra. Imagine the world of freedom, or lack of it. Who could foresee the technologies that make our lives so rewarding and convenient? The same technologies have us all under the government’s giant microscope. Thankfully, the brave have turned the microscope around.
In the months since Edward Snowden revealed the nature and extent of the spying that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been perpetrating upon Americans and foreigners, some of the NSA's most troublesome behavior has not been a part of the public debate.
The problem for NSA apologist is that when guys like Snowden disclose that the government conducts comprehensive surveillance in ways that would have made 1984’s O’Brien drool, it puts the entire progressive agenda in jeopardy.
The east coast and parts of the southern U.S. were to varying degrees paralyzed by blizzards a few weeks ago. The snow as expected rendered the roads treacherous, and in anticipation of slick streets, shoppers flocked to the grocery stores in advance.The rush into grocery stores, and its aftermath, offers worthwhile lessons in economics.First up, […]
The financial world is plodding along like a drunken sailor avoiding debt collectors by keeping no cash in his wallet. It’s not the kind of calm that’s going to last or end well. But the storm will have to wait until after the Olympics.What a game! We’ve never watched ice hockey closely before. But watching […]
In times of war and national emergency, it’s sometimes necessary to sacrifice civil liberties to secure vital gains in public safety. In those cases, we may have to accept a loss of privacy or freedom rather than invite mass slaughter of Americans.The National Security Agency’s domestic phone records collection is not one of those.Never have […]
Last year was quite the year for Bitcoin. We’ve seen exponential growth in Bitcoin’s exchange rate and extensive coverage in the media. Another phenomenon we have witnessed is the proliferation of alternative cryptocurrencies, five of which we’ve provided below.What all of these cryptocurrencies have in common is that they rely on a decentralized network to […]
Image: ShutterstockBitInstant CEO Charlie Shrem, along with alleged co-conspirator Robert Faiella, was arrested by federal authorities last week for allegedly laundering more than $1 million worth of Bitcoins. This is a tiny amount compared to the largest drug-and-terrorism money laundering case ever. Yet when British bank HSBC was found guilty in 2012 of laundering billions, […]
The exercise had an awesome name, inspired by the movies: “Quantum Dawn 2.”On July 18, scads of U.S. banks, stock exchanges and government agencies took part in a digital fire drill — a practice run in the event all of Wall Street came under massive cyberattack.This isn’t the first time banks have come under an […]
The faces of the Detroit bankruptcy are the thousands of pensioners whose promised benefits are suddenly part of the restructure negotiation. When Motown filed for Chapter 9 last July, the city had $11.5 billion in unsecured liabilities. The vast majority of this was pension and health care benefits owed to retired city employees.The images of […]
The New York Times published an interminable article on health care recently. Plenty of facts — how scrupulous are these journalists! — but the article displayed absolutely no comprehension of the basics of cause and effect. I was left wondering about the whole point.The article details how the health care system rewards specialists to an […]
We’ve pointed out in the past that President Obama’s views on the surveillance state shifted completely from when he was Senator to when he was President. As Senator, he supported a bunch of reforms that are very much like the ones his panel have suggested — and which he’s about to ignore. The NY Times […]
Bitcoins are largely considered digital currency (or “crypto currency”) so you’d expect it to be treated like currency on a retail web site. But the Internal Revenue Service might not think so.
The great inventors/businessmen of the First Industrial Revolution, such as James Watt and Matthew Boulton of steam-engine fame, were not just smart but privileged. Most were either born into the ruling class or lucky enough to be apprenticed to one of the elite. For most of history since then, entrepreneurship has meant either setting up […]
Both research and production look poised for a revolution as 3-D printing applies its high-tech charms to the business of creating chemical compounds and turns the production of medicine into a DIY project.
“Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.”When Capt. Jean-Luc Picard wants a steaming beverage in his ready room aboard the starship Enterprise, he just utters those words. The ship’s “replicator” then assembles the necessary atoms — including those for the cup — and produces it, ready for the drinking. Picard thinks nothing of it — it’s hardly more […]
The market has selected different things as money throughout history. Some of these items have served as money in isolated places for specific periods of time — for instance, cigarettes in prisoner-of-war camps. Cigarettes continue to be a currency in prisons if allowed, but if not, according to Wikipedia, “postage stamps have become a more […]
[Ed. Note: This article originally published on Jan. 24, 2013]Stocks up. Gold down. Bitcoin… waaay up.The S&P 500 busted through the 1,500 mark this morning. Stocks haven’t been this expensive since 2007… right before they got a whole lot cheaper… for a whole lot longer. Gold, meanwhile, dipped a tad. This, despite central bankers of […]
Before the housing market collapsed and the government pumped billions into the economy to save it, there was a programmer named Satoshi Nakamoto. And without much fanfare, he created an idea that’s in the process of changing the world. His idea was Bitcoin.Some background information is in order before I go any further.Think back to […]
Americans are still trying to get a handle on the full extent of the government’s domestic spying activities, including the recent revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting and storing the email address books of ordinary Americans using online messaging services. Many users of such services are looking to tech executives for […]
The online Internet exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act are up and running.OK, they’re up. Uhh, OK, some of them are sort of up.It has been almost a week since last Tuesday’s initial launch, and there have been more than a few problems.Website crashes, excessive response times and other problems have plagued the exchanges. […]
A growing consensus of IT experts, outside and inside the government, have figured out a principal reason why the website for Obamacare’s federally sponsored insurance exchange is crashing. Healthcare.gov forces you to create an account and enter detailed personal information before you can start shopping.This, in turn, creates a massive traffic bottleneck, as the government […]
As much as I love technology, part of me hates being so dependent on a live wall plug wherever I go. You find yourself trapped in some setting without accessible wall plugs and your phone is dying. You charge from you laptop, but that is dying too. You take recourse to your tablet, but that […]
U.S. and British intelligence agencies have successfully cracked much of the online encryption relied upon by hundreds of millions of people to protect the privacy of their personal data, online transactions and emails, according to top-secret documents revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.The files show that the National Security Agency and its UK counterpart GCHQ […]
Today, like most days, I fired up my computer.I read freely available information on the latest developments in technology that would, in the not too distant past, have required a drive to a library to flip through journals too numerous for me to afford. I read the latest national and global news without having to […]
On a Sunday afternoon swim, a 6-year-old boy was bugging me in a sweet sort of way. He rode up and down the handrail on the stairs in the shallow end of the pool where I was trying to sit in peace. He was laughing and talking, but I couldn’t understand a word through the […]
I’ve just completed a heavy schedule of talks at the Agora Financial Investment Symposium in Vancouver. All my talks centered on information economics, Web startups, and the productivity of the Internet and its meaning. As usual, I learned as much from the attendees as (I hope) they learned from my talks. The research I did […]
New regulations for “orphan drugs” went into effect on Aug. 12 — only the most recent update since such rules first passed in 1983. They’re intended to ease the regulatory process and lower barriers for medicines that address rare medical conditions. Otherwise, the costs of research, winning regulatory approval, and production can exceed anything a pharmaceutical company could hope to recoup in an era when developing a new drug might cost a billion — or billions of — dollars.
Bringing down regulatory costs is a necessary but elusive goal that may well require intervention by the federal policy fairies. But both research and production look poised for a revolution as 3-D printing applies its high-tech charms to the business of creating chemical compounds and turns the production of medicine into a DIY project. Not incidentally, the revolution also promises to kneecap whatever is left of efforts to control chemistry’s results, including recreational drugs.
In a TED talk in February of this year, professor Lee Cronin of the University of Glasgow explained the idea he had for taking complex chemistry and turning it into an accessible desktop project:
“As a chemist, one of the things I wanted to ask my research group a couple of years ago is could we make a really cool universal chemistry set? In essence, could we ‘app’ chemistry?
“Now, what would this mean, and how would we do it? Well, to start to do this, we took a 3-D printer and we started to print our beakers and our test tubes on one side and then print the molecule at the same time on the other side and combine them together in what we call reactionware. And so by printing the vessel and doing the chemistry at the same time, we may start to access this universal tool kit of chemistry.
“Now, what could this mean? Well, if we can embed biological and chemical networks like a search engine — so if you have a cell that’s ill that you need to cure or bacteria that you want to kill, if you have this embedded in your device at the same time, and you do the chemistry, you may be able to make drugs in a new way.
“So how are we doing this in the lab? Well, it requires software, it requires hardware, and it requires chemical inks. And so the really cool bit — the idea is that we want to have a universal set of inks that we put out with the printer, and you download the blueprint, the organic chemistry for that molecule, and you make it in the device. And so you can make your molecule in the printer using this software.
“So what could this mean? Well, ultimately, it could mean that you could print your own medicine. And this is what we’re doing in the lab at the moment.”
The ultimate goal of Cronin (who didn’t respond to Reason.com’s requests for an interview) and company, he makes clear, is to ease research and development of drugs — and to ultimately print them “at point of need.” Pharmaceutical companies will essentially become research outfits that develop new molecules and then sell the software file that people will download to make their medicine at home. The whole process is intended to be relatively inexpensive, too, since his Cronin Group website says, “This approach constitutes a cheap, automated, and reconfigurable chemical discovery platform that makes techniques from chemical engineering accessible to typical synthetic laboratories.”
And why stop there? A team headed by professor Hagan Bayley at Oxford University is working on 3-D-printed synthetic tissue that could supplement failing organs or manufacture and release drugs in the body.
If that doesn’t sound sufficiently futuristic, Cronin closes his TED talk by saying the ultimate goal is “your own personal matter fabricator. Beam me up, Scotty.” And that has honestly been the underlying dream of the whole 3-D printing revolution: boxes on your desk that can make anything you can imagine — including more boxes on your desk. It’s like asking a genie for extra wishes.
But 3-D printers have already raised interesting policy implications about the ability to control the production and possession of physical objects. Specifically, the successful efforts of Cody Wilson of Defense Distributed and other independent tinkerers to make firearms on 3-D printers have raised the likelihood that gun control is a dead issue. What impact will the ability to print chemical compounds on printers have on the political class of easily flustered control freaks?
The question has already come up. The Week‘s Chris Gayomali frets that “today’s primitive psychedelics and artificial mood-boosters may be just the beginning” once 3-D printing transforms chemical engineering. The customs minister from the land o’ hobbits, Maurice Williamson, worries on Radio New Zealand, “If people could print off… sheets of ecstasy tablets at the party they’re at that time, that just completely takes away our border protection role in its known sense.”
Cronin, among others, suggests that controlling the “chemical ink” is the key to preventing DIY recreational chemistry with 3-D printers. But that seems like a bit of a wishful thinking from a man who wants to ease the way for what is truly a technological transformation — one that will be used in myriad ways to be determined by end-users. Much current research uses bathroom sealant as the ink, and that’s not the easiest material to restrict.
Cody Wilson and a horde of lesser-known innovators arose to explore and expand 3-D printing’s subversive powers when it comes to guns. It’s difficult to believe that the world that brought us the Silk Road online marketplace for illegal drugs won’t also produce chemically oriented tinkerers in abundance to exploit the recreational (and commercial) potential of producing intoxicants via 3-D chemical printing.
Will regulators grow so frightened of a world beyond their laws (not that such a world doesn’t already surround us) that they’ll willingly try to toss out the technologically transformative baby with the organic chemistry-infused bathwater? Honestly, we know that politicians and appointed government officials alike are capable of burn-the-village-to-save-it behavior. But even the most reactionary and obstructionist FDA of the future won’t be able to prevent rare disease sufferers from downloading files developed in Germany or Singapore or on some seasteading platform and printing officially unapproved medicines. Recreational chemists will, no doubt, upload and download their files through mechanisms like Pirate Bay and Silk Road.
If the research path taken by boundary-pushing scientists lives up to its initial promise, the orphan drug problem may well become a bad memory. And so, too, will enforceable restrictions on chemicals, including recreational pharmaceuticals.
– J.D. Tuccille
This article originally appeared here, on Reason.com.
J.D. Tuccille is managing editor of Reason 24/7 at Reason.com. Having started his online career in the days of proprietary online services, and seen them swept away by the Internet, he’s a believer in the liberating and transformative power of new media.