The New Alchemy

My son is a big fan of the Anime series “Full Metal Alchemist.”  I watched the first few episodes and I was intriguted by the alchemist rule of Equivalent Exchange.  In the case of the episode, the consequence of Equivalent Exchange cost the main characters something of equivalent value (An arm and leg or corporeality).  Now, I did a Google search on “The New Alchemy” and I came across “The Long Tail” and a post below the website contrasting the atoms economy versus the bits economy.  I think this is something traditional governments and companies fail to grok: information can not be made scarce like atoms, but fundamentally, it isn’t matter.  We can try to “protect intellectual material” but how can you protect something that isn’t material using material rules?  It’s not like the police can return your intellectual property back to you because you “cannot unring a bell.”  In particular, once the information is disclosed, you cannot remove it from everyone’s minds.  Also, once something has been digitized (or once it was created digitally), you can make infinite copies at practically no cost: alchemy indeed except without any initial material to be converted.  So much for equivalent exchange.  In the Star Trek: The Next Generation universe, energy and material can be exchanged (although the cost of said exchange was somewhat winked at), and there was an allusion to the equivalence between energy, material and thought in the episodes with “The Traveler.”  In any case, it remains to be seen what the long-term consequence of free information will have on the world, but I (among many) think that it will be a better or at least more interesting world.

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