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New Book Predicts Next Wave in Technology - 2002-06-18

The digital revolution has moved from tiny start-up tech firms to mainstream U.S. corporations, dramatically altering the way work is done on all levels. In his new book "The Strategy Machine," technology expert Larry Downes examines the impact the next wave of technology will have on business.

Computers are increasingly becoming smaller and cheaper, with more finely tuned capabilities. This trend, Larry Downes predicts, will ultimately lead to dramatic changes in product supply chain management.

In the near future, he says, consumer products will be sold with tiny computers implanted in them that will transmit signals back to manufacturers. "A manufacturer, let us say making toothpaste," he says, "will have the ability to know where every single tube of toothpaste is in the supply chain, whether it is in the store, in the warehouse, in your house, how much of it is being used, how many people are using it."

The technology to do this is available already, Mr. Downes says; it is just the cost that must be reduced to make it feasible. Right now, he says, it would cost about a dollar for a manufacturer to implant a computer chip in a product. "And that computer chip can have a small, short range transmitter even as part of the little chip," he says, "It's sort of like a product code you might see on a product now, but instead of being scanned, it scans itself and it can start sending and receiving data whenever it is in range of a transmitter."

Another area of commerce where great changes are anticipated is in the professional trades. Here, Larry Downes says, change will be driven by the spread of expert information.

He says medical patients and legal clients are already using the Internet to do research that enables them to make more informed decisions about their care. "And that," he observes, "is putting a lot of pressure on the legal profession, the medical profession, accounting, tax. All these areas now where software and the web enhance the ability of consumers to get their own information and put it together themselves, are really putting a lot of question into this myth that we have of the professional who can only do things one person at a time and charges by the hour and sits in an office."

If there are software packages that enable you to write a will, for example, who needs a lawyer? "Right now they operate in some sense by hoarding," Mr. Downes says, "The bar associations make sure that only lawyers are giving service, but that is breaking down because of the Internet."

And it will break down more, Larry Downes says. It all comes down to the ownership of expertise in an era where information is the prime commodity.