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"Exploring the Edges"
2001 Foresight Gathering

April 20-22, 2001 (see Schedule for times)
Final Program Update in PDF format (requires ACROBAT READER by ADOBE)

Preliminary Program

Friday evening

Check in at registration, grab a drink, and head directly to the giant sign-up board. Plot your personal path through a smorgasbord of choices for the weekend.

Next, catch up with old friends or meet new ones as you indulge in snacks and bask in the music on the patio. You'll just be getting started when it's time for:

Orientation: highly recommended for first-timers, but all are welcome. An overview on the goals of this event — led by Chris Peterson, Gayle Pergamit, and Ralph Merkle — followed by a quick round of introductions so you'll know who's who and why they're here. Take this opportunity to tell us what you want from the weekend, but be careful what you ask for — for instance, a job in nanotech? — 'cause you just might get it.

The Meme-Pump Process: Saturday & Sunday

This time we're using a "meme-pump" process — flooring the accelerator to evolve concepts superfast through extreme environmental pressure (variation) followed by rigorous pruning (selection).

We do four complete rounds of this over the weekend:

Saturday morning: Nanotech remakes the physical world — replacing current infrastructure, restoring the Earth, and enlarging the biosphere beyond our home planet
Saturday afternoon: Infotech combines with nanotech — or the prospect of nanotech — to disrupt existing ways of living and working
Sunday morning: The primates in the system —that is, we humans — want to influence events using our current tools: the law, the market, etc. Which ways can succeed; which are bound to fail, in parallel with the coming of nanotech?
Sunday afternoon: Today, humans typically take group action in the form of traditional companies, nations, supranationals — and increasingly in entirely new forms. Which will work in a nanotech world? And the urgent question for individuals: How can I personally survive and prosper through what's coming?

Crash course from Eric

We start each day with some grounding in the basics from Foresight chairman Eric Drexler — a set of ideas one can think of as Foresight's basic genome. Of course, what Foresight defines as "the basics" looks quite different from the standard worldview: A strong nanotechnology perspective first, combined with radical change coming from infotech (Saturday). Then Eric will mix nanotech and infotech with social systems and real-world forms of interaction (Sunday).

After this crash course both mornings, we split up into four parallel track of up to 80 participants each:

  • Beyond scarcity
  • Beyond the nation-state
  • Beyond the human
  • Beyond coercion

Each track is kicked off by a short talk from the Provocateur, starting the variation process by challenging our baseline views.

Then the real work of Variation begins: in groups of up to 10 we tear apart what looks wrong and recombine what looks right.

Next comes Synthesis: we re-group into our tracks to find out whether these reformulations pass muster with our colleagues—or do they combine into yet a different arrangement? Some newborn memes disappear here, as we let go of that which doesn't fit. A new whole emerges.

Last in each cycle is the Report — each track presents its results to the full conference.

Bemused by change, we then do the only thing possible — we go eat, to discuss all this somewhat sluggishly at first, then with increasing enthusiasm as a fresh supply of glucose reaches the brain.

Expanded topic descriptions:

Saturday morning

It's hard to overestimate the impact that nanotechnology will bring to the physical world we inhabit. Some changes will be virtually invisible to the user — medical nanodevices, for example. Others will be hard to miss — rapid replacement of physical infrastructure that normally takes decades to change.
Track 1: Today's planners don't take nanotechnology into account. Picture dispersed manufacturing, even in the home. The disappearance of routine transportation as it moves into evacuated tunnels underground. Affordable "zero tolerance" for chemical pollution.
Track 2: More radical is the end of Earth as the only home for Earth-evolved life. Some advocate terraforming — a more intriguing option is the construction in free space of exactly the environments we want. How big can a space habitat be when made with nanotechnology? So big that you may find it hard to believe, but that's what cheap, super-strong materials buys you.
Track 3: Even more radical are the changes made possible to the human body itself by nanotech and its predecessor biotech. The end of disease and aging are just the beginning. An upside: personal control of body conformation should make today's "isms" — racism, sexism, ageism — impossible to practice.
Track 4: The magnitude of raw computing power coming from nanotechnology is almost incomprehensible, but let's try. A downside: what happens when that power combines with nano-manufacturing to give smart weapons of stunning destructive ability?

Saturday afternoon

Nanotech is about matter, about "stuff". Now take our anticipated control over "stuff" and merge it with our growing ability to control bits, and what do you get? Sometimes what you get is major change that kicks in before strong nanotech actually arrives. Once it does, all of today's traditional expectations are blown away.
Track 1: Let's look at how easy surveillance becomes with nano-sensors and massive compute ability. Cheap surveillance is starting even today — just think how fully recorded our lives will be given nanotech. Who's collecting this data, who owns it, how is it used? An upside: the end of violent crime, theft, vandalism.
Track 2: Anyone who uses computers knows that the problem is software. Software, in general, is abysmally awful. The idea of putting a nanodevice into one's body, running software like today's, is ludicrous. There's no magic bullet, but open source development makes a big difference. Software increasing runs the world, and open source increasingly will dominate software. That's power, folks — real-world power of a kind to threaten even governments.
Track 3: Nanotech gets us raw compute power, but creating machine intelligence will require smart software too. Worst case, we model the human brain, but there must be better ways. How, and when, will we be forced to acknowledge the first machine intelligence?
Track 4: Some say, nanotech's effects will take decades to play out, since when it arrives we won't know what to do with it. Not necessarily so: the design-ahead process enables us to plan right now what we'll do with nanotech. This supports the "sudden drastic change" or Singularity model of nanotech deployment.

Saturday evening

Dinner on your own, followed by two options:

  • Field trip to Fry's Electronics, the world-famous geek paradise. An easy 1.6-mile stroll from the conference hotel, or grab a ride from someone with a car.
  • For donors at the Fellow ($500) level and above, join the Special Guests for a no-host expedition of go-cart racing. Pizza provided. ("No-host" is the politically correct term for the old phrase "Dutch treat", i.e. we each pay our own way.) If not yet at the Fellow level, upgrade online or at the registration desk to join this outing.

Sunday morning

The primate response to the radical changes from nanotech and advanced infotech we explored yesterday. What systems do human use to channel our emotions and concerns, and how will they handle such drastic change?
Track 1: Ethics per se. The primary factor of importance is right vs. wrong, not just what is technically possible or currently legal. (The ethics perspective permeates this entire meeting — here we pull it out explicitly.)
Track 2: The Market. Today's markets are visible to government. Tomorrow's will be encrypted and will trade private currencies. Information and money flow freely, unregulated and untaxed.
Track 3: The Law. Already we can see the battles coming: ideas should be owned (the expansion of "intellectual property"), or they should not.
Track 4: Tools for Catalyzing Cooperation. Problems are more easily solved if people have and use the right tools for working together. What needs building? Can better software make a difference? Here we can have an impact.

Sunday afternoon

It's a truism that institutions change slowly. Faced with mindboggling change, today's will either have to adapt fast or lose influence, even collapse. Here we perform triage, sorting out those that can be saved from those requiring wholesale replacement. We conclude by figuring out what the heck we as individuals, personally, need to do to prepare for tomorrow, and/or to tweak it for the better.
Track 1: The Corporation. The corporate form is about limited liability, and as such it will exist as long as the law permits. What's the impact of nanotech etc. on corporations — any changes needed?
Track 2: Supranationals. Can we envision any international institution of use, and if so what would it look like? To whom would it be answerable, and if democratic, which entities get to vote in a world with machine intelligence? And what about redistribution: it's popular with many, but is it a sustainable policy, even with the benefits of nanotech to help?
Track 3: Governments. Remember the nation-state? They're still the focus of physical power, and we'll need to deal with that reality. Can the nation-state gracefully handle a decrease in power due to increasing individual power from nanotech and infotech?
Track 4: New forms. The rise of spontaneous cooperation gives us new options for coordinated action, e.g. Foresight. How can we deploy this tool for greatest impact? Where in the nanotech/infotech memespace can we make the greatest difference?
All tracks: The individual. Besides group action, we each need to take actions on our own to secure our future and our families' future. What specifically can we do to maximize our chance to participate in these coming revolutions?

The Wrap-Up

We pull it all together with a visionary overview of this weekend's progress from the perspective of each track:

  • Beyond scarcity
  • Beyond the nation-state
  • Beyond the human
  • Beyond coercion

Closing

After the official sign-off, try to leave some time in your travel schedule to briefly touch base again with those you met this weekend, exchange email addresses, even have dinner Sunday night if possible. This networking function is perhaps the most valuable part of the Foresight Gatherings.

We look forward to seeing you at the Gathering again next year!

Final Program Update April 19: Revised anad detailed Program in PDF format. Requires ACROBAT READER by ADOBE.

 

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