I have a running debate with a colleague about the nature of technological change. He thinks of tech as an exogenous, semi-autonomous force that drives social change in unforeseen directions.
My take on it* is that this approach ignores the role of human agency - that at any one time, the specific character and distribution of tech is the product of competition and cooperation between existing and potential interests.
The reason I mention this is because today I noticed a report in Information Week about a new 'Uncrackable' Secure Gigabit Quantum-Encryption Scheme. It's complicated stuff, but the short story is that quantum encryption (QE) enables effectively perfect secrecy - or rather, that QE can alert users (or rather, their software) to any eavesdropping.
The reason I mention this is because it occurs to me that such technologies are likely to challenge some existing interests (e.g., national security and law enforcement), while presenting an invaluable tool to others (e.g., citizens, consumers, online commerce, national security and law enforcement).
As we have seen with other encryption technologies, governments are uncomfortable with the idea of true secrecy (e.g., transfer of strong encryption still requires an export license from the US Dept of Commerce).
This suggests a testable hypothesis: if QE is widely implemented in five years without "back door access" - and without evidence of a heated conflict between states, markets, and citizens on this issue, I'll concede that technological change is largely exogenous. This means QE technology must have significant marketshare of high-speed aps and be free of content monitoring, and that citizens, consumers, and online commercial interests see no need to go toe-to-toe with state interests on this issue.
* Actually, I don't see how this is even a debate - got DRM?