That’s a picture of a transparent memory chip developed by a group of South Korean scientists that Mark Wilson reports on in his December 17, 2008 blog post, Researchers Develop Transparent Memory, See-Through Electronics Next. Mr. Wilson calls it the precursor to completely transparent electronics.

So imagine that this technology is incorporated into the new tablet computers. Jason Chen offers an interesting scenario in his blog post, Be a Walking Wikipedia With the Handheld Looking Glass Computer:

There’s no better way to annoy your travel companions than to take something like this handheld-computer design wherever you go. Not only can you hold it up to buildings and get the address, history and architectural schematics (you know, for a heist), but it also supposedly hooks up with your personal organizer, a dictionary and Google—for that extra bit of information overload.

Now imagine having this same “looking glass” technology to see through 401(k) product offerings to find all the fees. Fact is, we’re pretty darn close to that today as 401(k) fee transparency has taken another step forward.

Not in the form of regulatory action by the Department of Labor or class action lawsuits. But rather in the form of a plan sponsor entering into a proposed settlement with a 401(k) provider.

You can read the details in the Groom Law Group‘s March 11, 2010 Memorandum To Clients, Court Grants Preliminary Approval of Hartford Fee Lawsuit Settlement. But here’s the bottom line. Groom reports that Hartford will be paying approximately $14 million if the Court approves the settlement in June.

In addition, the insurance company will make changes to its plan documents, group annuity contracts, and funding agreements; and provide additional revenue sharing disclosures to current and future plan sponsors and participants

I’ll let the ERISA attorneys out there comment on the significance of this settlement in what the retirement plan industry calls the “401(k) Space”. (I’m resisting the urge to riff on that one). I’ll just offer up two practical suggestions to plan sponsors:

  1. Know what you are signing
  2. Be careful about ceding discretion to a service provider

Sometimes low tech can work well too.