|We need to reach a wide range of opinion leaders|
FI: What do you see as important goals for the next few
Drexler: In the next few years, we need to reach a wide range of opinion leaders, particularly in the scientific and technical disciplines and some of the longer-range thinkers in political and economic policy. We need to have these opinion leaders exposed to the ideas of nanotechnology, assemblers, and the rest in such a way that they come away seeing them as credible concerns and understanding their basic implications. And we need to develop a family of organizations that bring people together who are concerned with these matters, so that they can exchange ideas and work together effectively to influence the course of events--to influence the way this technology emerges and how it's used. Our goal is to help that process along and to provide a way for people to get together and do these things.
FI: What can readers of this newsletter do to help this goal?
Drexler: Readers can think about how they might be able to help this effort, and can let us know what role they might be able to play. And they can inform their friends and colleagues and try to get them involved as well.
The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at MIT,
Stewart Brand, Viking, 1987. Vividly describes the Lab's goals
and projects in which computers, broadcasting, and publishing are
merging to give us personalized technologies. A fun read,
accessible to laymen.
The Evolution of Cooperation, Robert Axelrod, Basic Books, 1984. Describes an elegant computer game that showed how cooperation can evolve among self-interested, competing entities. Shows what conditions promote cooperation and the importance of being "nice, retaliatory, and forgiving."
Molecular Electronic Devices II, Forrest Carter (ed.), Marcel Dekker, 1987. Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Molecular Electronic Devices held in 1983 at the Naval Research Lab. Oriented toward chemistry, it also includes one paper on nanotechnology. If the nearly $100 price daunts you, have your favorite technical library buy it.
Technologies of Freedom, Ithiel de Sola Poole, Belknap/Harvard, 1983. A classic work on freedom of speech and of the press in electronic media, combining history, law, and technology. Of interest to all who look forward to hypertext publishing as a new free press. Accessible to laymen, also available in paperback.
Engines of Creation, K. Eric Drexler, Anchor Press/Doubleday. Just published in paperback.
Molecular Mechanics, ACS Monograph 177, U. Burkert and N. Allinger, Amer. Chem. Soc., 1982. Standard reference on molecular mechanics, useful for molecule hackers.
Induction: Processes of Inference, Learning, and Discovery, John Holland et al., MIT Press, 1986. Inductive reasoning and learning in both organisms and machines are given a new theoretical interpretation by two psychologists, a computer scientist, and a philosopher. Yale's Sternberg calls it "the most important book on induction, and probably on reasoning in general, that has ever been written."
David Forrest of the MIT NSG has prepared an information packet, entitled "Nanotechnology Press Kit," which we understand is available to anyone on request from the MIT News Office, 77 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02139.
Richard Dawkins's book The Blind Watchmaker (reviewed last issue) is due out in paperback in January; for an added $9.95, buyers can get Blind Watchmaker software for the Macintosh personal computer. This program simulates the variation and selection processes of evolution. The "organisms" are line drawings which have an "embryology" involving the number and pattern of branching lines, which are controlled by numerical "genes." Random mutation produces variations in the drawings, while users control the selection process--essentially, picking what looks interesting. A startling range of patterns can quickly be evolved, from trees to insects to frogs to faces. Blind Watchmaker literally brings home the power of combining random mutation with nonrandom selection, and it's addictive fun too.
The Foresight Institute has received hundreds of
letters--from across the US, Canada, Japan, and
Europe--requesting information on our activities. Herewith some
... My primary research interest is metabolic engineering, the rational analysis, design and construction of biochemical networks. An eventual extension of this work is the design of membranes and other cellular components. If you know of others interested in this area of nanotechnology I would greatly appreciate a listing of their names and addresses.
Prof. Douglas Cameron
University of Wisconsin
I count my reading of Engines
of Creation among the more inspiring and hopeful
intellectual experiences of my lifetime.... Thank you for writing
it. I've long followed developments in technology--primarily
electronics--and have encouraged an active futures orientation in
our small company here in San Francisco. As an independent
consultant, writer, researcher, and entrepreneur, I'm interested
in continuing to track the evolution of bioelectronics and
related fields. I'm also interested in examining and helping to
clarify the social implications of these developments.
San Francisco, CA
I am a chemistry professor at Princeton University whose
research interests are the electronic structure and reactivity of
organic, inorganic and biological systems. We are concerned with
the understanding of the mechanistic principles and structural
patterns of molecules ... have been greatly stimulate by
Drexler's book and believe that our research is taking us
precisely the direction suggested there.
Prof. Leland Allen
... My interest stems from a very intimate participation in
the methodology of molecular engineering which is the basis of
Chairman and Chief Technical Officer
Catalytica Associates, Inc.
Engines of Creation
is such a thought-provoking and stimulating book that it took
me almost five weeks to read. Your reasoned analysis and
optimistic forecasts ... required me to "step back" and
sort out my thoughts after each reading of a few pages.... Your
combination of insight, well-organized arguments and prediction
of success for mankind continue to add energy and purpose to each
day of my life....
Life-extension research is of great interest to me, as are the
potentials of nanotechnology for establishing an environmentally
safe form of industrial production. Drexler's book ... does an
excellent job of charting the likely road into the future with
both its opportunities and its hazards.
... I would appreciate being placed on your mailing list and
receiving any information on [nanotechnology]. As a molecular
biologist I am very interested in the application of
biotechnology to all facets of life, but especially to computer
technology and artificial intelligence.... I would like to keep
abreast of the latest developments in nanotechnology that have
relevance to medicine.
Stephen Grund, PhD
Health Science and Technology Program
... It's surprising that more futurists have not seen
[nanotechnology] earlier, as it is so much in line with
technological trends of increasing miniaturization and fine
control over matter. I particularly liked your portrayal of the
ease and speed that will apply to future construction of space
hardware. It is refreshing to have a virtually certain proof that
space settlement need not be stopped by economics....
So far as the immediate future is concerned, I think that the recognition of our need for better institutions is right on. Fact forums and hypertext will be needed for dealing with the new technology, as well as providing a competitive focus for new memes. Building these new institutions certainly seems like a better tactic than simply flailing away at trying to improve the old institutions.
Over 200 FI contributors have filled out our five-page
questionnaire. As a result, we now have a good feel for who is
interested in nanotechnology, and for their views on the FI
approach to this and other coming technologies.
FI participants come from all walks of life, from professors and technical workers--the majority--to truck drivers and clerical workers. Not surprisingly, many of us work in the computer field. Almost all agree with FI's assessment of the importance of nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, hypertext publishing/social software, fact forums, and space development as technologies which will drastically alter our future, but some are skeptical regarding one or more of these ideas.
The vast majority are somewhat-to-very concerned about possible misuse of new technologies, social and economic disruption caused by them, and unnecessary delays in development due to fears based on ignorance. Protecting and restoring environmental quality is a widespread concern, regardless of political affiliation.
Most respondents are "strongly interested" in all of the information areas we list, from technical information to progress reports on organizational work. Naturally, nontechnical people are less enthusiastic about the former, and some technical people are uninterested in the latter. Most want both, and everything we list in between, so until two separate publications can be justified we'll combine technical and nontechnical information in Update.
Too many friends have helped FI in too many ways to be thanked here, but we'd like to mention a few who've responded to our calls for advice on two particular topics. For advising us on Macintosh accounting software, thanks to (among others) Frederick Reynolds, Lance Albin, and T. Toth-Fejel. For advising us on finding an Executive Director, thanks to (among others) Ray Alden, Pat Wagner, Brian Quig, Gayle Pergamit, Stewart Brand, M.L. Hanson, Margaret Jordan, and Linda Arc.
From Foresight Update 2, originally published 15 November 1987.
Foresight thanks Dave Kilbridge for converting Update 2 to html for this web page.
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