From an ICT point of view, realizing a robust, intelligent and self-regulating living technology based on the same principles as biology would revolutionize our ability to control the microscopic world in real time and with high information density. This would take IT “where the action is,” which is online, immersed and, nano, giving it the same kind of functionality as cells and organelles but with enhanced programmable control of function. ICT components in machinery or bio-medical devices might change their physical form in response to changing environmental conditions, greatly enhancing their functionality. The vision is to allow ICT specialists programmable algorithmic entry to the vast world of nanoscale chemical system processes, leading to an immeasurably more powerful generation of ICT devices and software.
Moreover, a breakthrough in this area would directly address the problem of how to produce and construct the complex molecular structures and assemblies required for future ICT. In future we will require not top-down, directed assembly of structures, but utilization of interactions between components to self-assemble informational components into organized functional information processing materials of immense complexity. The impact would be a major increase in the complexity and programmability of engineered ICT nanosystems, for all areas of application of such systems (e.g. health, environment, energy, manufacturing).
In broader terms, however, living technology would be an enabling technology akin to the transistor or the splitting of the atom, with immense repercussions throughout science and technology, for producing new materials, improving human health, environmental science, nano- and microscale production, and combined digital and molecular information processing. This will bring ICT further into the forefront of many of the key disciplines facing the world: from health, sustainable manufacturing, energy, to the environment, both from the analytical and synthetic perspective.
For example, a breakthrough in this area would provide a route to high information density molecular logistics, where information directs synthesis, packaging, labeling, delivery and deployment of molecular components. This will open up a new engineering field of microscale programmable production systems that would revolutionize our approach to artifact construction, and place ICT at the centre of a new nanoscale manufacturing and diagnostic industry. Apart from the additional contribution to unraveling biological complexity in eukaryotic cells, the major impact to society will reside in the use of such systems in the economical construction and deployment of complex molecular devices for health, energy, manufacturing and the environment. It will also allow the engineering of bio-reactors capable of synthesizing artificial hormones, proteins, antibodies and enzymes, and also for use in energy production, such as hydrogen or ethanol.
Or, one might easily imagine the realization of programmable, self-constructing and self-regulating “live-ware” capable of controlling the chemical composition and dynamical structures of the micro-sphere in which they are immersed. Current computer systems simply cannot do this. Live-ware of this kind could deliver drugs intelligently for medical applications, or indeed do much more than mere delivery of molecules by orchestrating complex targeted interventions tuned to specific tissues. Such applications illustrate the potential for "constructive computing" to transform ICT with enormous economic significance and benefits to society. This technology would also lead to better and smarter sensors designed along biological lines, with combined sensitivity and specificity far advanced over today's sensors, and with myriad applications in health, environmental monitoring and security. Programmable artificial cells could also function as an early warning system for environmental malfunction. Or an even more visionary possibility is the emergence of a new science of evolvable and adaptable software, inspired by the operating principles of biology.
While we have been trained and habituated to thinking that the amount of information processing is most important, the next major revolution in ICT will instead involve a radical change in its deployment and real world utilization. The new technologies emerging out of it, many now impossible even to imagine, will utterly transform ICT, with equally significant socio-economic implications. In particular, the vast range of new technologies and capabilities emerging from this advance will likely create an immense difference between societies that can/cannot achieve it.