Pesky artists predicting the future again.

or how physical DRM will sneak in through the back door.

A few weeks ago I wrote a review of the Adhocracy exhibition at Lime Wharf. In that review I noted the DRM  Chair ,an art piece aimed at showing the possibility that Digital Rights Management (DRM) Could make the jump from the world of software,ebooks and music to hardware.

Skip forwards a couple of weeks and the Guardian has published an article on a new type of electronic devices that can self destruct when exposed to moisture.

The technology is really interesting, the article and the video explain some of the novel uses that the devices can be used for, but I can’t help wondering if it is the thin end of the wedge of DRM in physical devices.

Apple already have liquid contact indicators in their devices so that if the device is dropped in water or exposed to humidity outside its specified range it is visibly obvious and the warranty will be null and void.

Its never a good idea to drop a mobile phone in water but they can survive and even if they stop working at least they can be repaired or  recycled. That won’t be true if all that is left of your mobile phone is a gloopy mess.

I would hope that the corporations that design and  manufacture mobile phones, tablets and all the other plethora of devices that don’t just use this technology as an opportunity to force consumers to replace rather than repair broken phones  or make do with phones that aren’t quite perfect.

Taking advantage of people’s unfortunate accidents would be bad enough, but deliberately making devices that fail to boost profits is another. Would Mega rich money grabbing companies be so evil do that?  Of course they would.

It wouldn’t be obvious at first.  Maybe start off with using the  technology  to permanently disable a phone if it is stolen. Then taking more control by stopping people selling used phones, promoting how they are cutting crime by ensuring that only approved distributors they are the only source of the product.  No doubt preventing terrorism will be crow-barred in to make you feel guilty about trying to get around the system.

Before you know it, you will be on a 18 month forced upgrade cycle, paying a monthly licence fee for something that will turn to gunk when the payments dry up.

If this technology should become widely used then there needs to be a proper analysis of its environmental impact against conventional electronic manufacturing techniques.  It could very well be  better way it could be worse but  not finding out before the time comes could be a costly mistake.

I hope that this research will lead to amazing devices and be used in ways not even dreamed of yet, but whenever there is the possibility for big business to come in and make a quick buck I always worry what could go wrong.


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