A lot of effort in the paperless industry is in trying to digitize existing paper. This is really a backwards approach. It is important for getting all the existing paper, signed documents and other things into a digital form, but it is holding us back from really moving to paperless systems that save time.
One of the biggest examples of this is the slow adoption of electronic signatures. If we could switch most business transactions over to using electronic signatures it would have a much greater impact on our ability to go paperless than anything that is likely to come out of the current research into making better scanners. That is because technology like digital signatures, stops the creation of paper at its source rather than simply trying to digitize it after it has been created.
Personally, I think the holdup is the fact that people have an easier time understanding physical technologies (paper, scanners, etc.) than digital technologies like electronic signatures. It is easy to understand how a scanner works. You put the paper in and it makes an electronic copy. However, it is much more difficult to understand how encryption and digital signatures work. This type of understanding requires some math skills and quite a bit of abstract mental ability.
Unfortunately it is harder to get people to adopt technology that they don’t understand. I’m not saying that everyone one needs to understand the details of radiation to use a microwave, but there is still a basic understanding at some level about how it works. If we want to see better adoption of electronic signatures and other types of public key infrastructure technology we need to start by educating people about how the technology works.
This isn’t going to be an easy task. As mentioned, it can be difficult to understand exactly how things things work and there aren’t a lot of great ways to map the technology to things that people understand. Still it is worth a try and if we can get people familiar with how electronic signatures work, we stand a much greater chance of it being adopted.
The best place to really try to push for education is in high schools and colleges. If we can teach the up and coming generation about how the technology works before they join the work force, they will be in an excellent position to use it. They are already very tech savvy so learning an addition technology would probably come more naturally and easier than it would for people who have a harder time using computers.