Foresight Update 8
A publication of the Foresight Institute
Books are listed in order of increasing specialization and
level of reading challenge. Your suggestions are welcome. If a
book's price looks too high, ask your librarian to get it through
Envisioning a Sustainable Society, by Lester
W. Milbrath, State University of New York Press, 1989, paperback,
$18.95. Written by a speaker at the First Foresight
Conference on Nanotechnology, this is the first environmental
book to discuss nanotechnology. Possible effects, both positive
and negative, are outlined, along with hypertext and the science
court procedure. (There is a minor confusion regarding the
connection between hypertext and nanotechnology, which would be
easily fixed in a hypertext medium.) Recommended especially for
those interested in the response of an academic environmentalist
to Drexler's book Engines of
Creation. For the lay reader.
Analog Essays on Science, ed. Stanley
Schmidt, Wiley Science, 1990, hardcover, $19.95. Twenty science
essays including two based on nanotechnology and one on memes.
Accessible to the lay reader.
Microcosmos, by Jeremy Burgess, Michael
Marten, and Rosemary Taylor, Cambridge University Press, 1987,
hardcover, $29.95. A beautiful collection of pictures taken with
light microscopes and electron microscopes of the everyday
objects around (and within) us. Fascinating to those with or
without a science background, the book can be used to interest
nontechnical people of all ages, from grandparents to
five-year-olds, in the microscale world. FI Advisor Stewart
Brand: "The range and quality of images presented here is an
exciting introduction to the micro-future."
Molecular Machinery, by Andrew Scott, Basil
Blackwell, 1989, hardcover, $19.95. An interesting short overview
of chemistry, from bond types to existing molecular devices like
catalysts. Accessible to the serious lay reader.
Molecular Biology of the Cell, by Bruce
Alberts et al., Garland, 1989, hardcover, $39.95. Second massive
edition of this work on the molecular machinery in cells and
general cell biology; explains how this machinery is organized in
biological systems (in a manner quite different from the
organization planned for nanomechanical systems). For readers
with some science background.
Molecular Biology of the Gene, by James
Watson et al., Benjamin/Cummings, 1987, hardcover, $55.95. Fourth
massive edition of this classic work on genetics. Narrower in
scope than the book listed above, but it covers much more than
just DNA. Technical.
A Call for Papers has been issued for a new journal entitled Nanotechnology
to be sponsored by the Institute of Physics in the U.K. A
quarterly to begin in June 1990, it is described as the world's
first journal devoted exclusively to nanoscale physics,
electronics, and engineering. Nanotechnology is stated to be
"a key enabling technology of the future," which
"bridges the gap between the very ultimate advances in
conventional engineering manufacture, metrology, and performance
and the application of atomic level regimes to practical usage in
engineering, fabrication, optics, electronics, materials science,
biology, and medicine."
The planned scope of the journal includes:
- engineering fabrication involving atomic level machining
- metrology involving dimension size and tolerances less
than the wavelength of light and down to values of at
least 0.2 nm but preferably to x-ray levels
- performance of micromechanisms to the subnanometer and
molecular levels in the design of instruments and machine
- the application of nanometer level instruments such as
scanning tunneling microscopes to biology, medicine, and
The backgrounds of the Editor and Editorial Board indicate
that the journal will have a special focus on metrology, the
science of measurement. E. Clayton Teague of the National
Institute of Standards and Technology, one of the journal's
Regional Editors, informs us that it will also cover
nanoelectronics, molecular electronics, and vacuum
While the journal's scope indicates that the title Nanotechnology
refers to the broader, British meaning (not just technology based
on molecular manufacturing, but all nanoscale technology) it
promises to be an interesting contribution to the literature. For
information, contact the publisher IOP Publishing Ltd, Techno
House, Redcliffe Way, Bristol, BS1 6NX, U.K.
The economics journal Market Process will publish
an article on market-style "agoric" software in the
Spring 1990 issue. The article is based on a visit by Prof. Don
Lavoie of George Mason University and two graduate students to
agoric authors Mark S.
Miller and Eric Drexler.
A free copy of this issue is available by writing to the Center
for the Study of Market Processes, address given below.
The visit was stimulated by the publication of a series of three
papers on agoric computation written by Miller and Drexler;
their suggestions may be relevant to the problem of efficiently
exploiting computer systems with a trillion processors (as well
as more near-term issues in computation). Miller has donated 40
sets of the papers for distribution to interested Foresight
members; please send to the Foresight Institute a stamped,
self-addressed 9 by 12 inch envelope with $2.05 postage within
the U.S. to receive your copies.
Prof. Lavoie now leads a small working group called the Agorics
Project; a goal of the group is to use agoric computational
techniques to model the workings of economic mechanisms, starting
with Carl Menger's theory of the evolution of money in a barter
economy. The group is primarily composed of economists and could
use assistance from one or more persons able to program in the
Smalltalk language. Those interested should contact Prof. Lavoie
at the address below.
The Agorics Project is planning a symposium entitled
"Evolutionary Economics: Learning from Computation" on
April 23-24. Sponsored by the Center for the Study of Market
Processes, it will be held at George Mason University in Fairfax,
VA, near Washington, DC. The focus of the meeting will be
open-ended, evolutionary process modeling rather than the more
traditional closed-ended, equilibrium modeling more common to
economics. Among the topics to be included are agoric systems
(speaker Mark S. Miller), neural nets, genetic algorithms and
classifier systems. There will be no registration fee for the
symposium. For further information, contact the Center for the
Study of Market Processes, Dept. of Economics, George Mason
University, 4400 University Drive, Fairfax, VA 22030.
[Editor's note: see the report on the
symposium in Update 9. ]
Voice at FI
When you call the Foresight Institute you will hear a new
voice, that of Chris Rodgers. Chris is working with FI half-time
and handles most phone inquiries and the vast bulk of mail
requests, including all new memberships and renewals. We're glad
to have her on board and hope you will join with us in welcoming
her when you call FI.
Conference Tapes Available
Foresight Conference on Nanotechnology was recorded on
audiotape and videotape; these tapes are now available. The
topics and speakers at the meeting were as follows:
- Welcoming remarks by Nils Nilsson, Chairman of Stanford
Computer Science Dept. and GBN President Peter Schwartz
- Chairman's overview and introduction, Eric Drexler
- Electrostatic self assembly, Michael Ward, Du Pont
- Quantum transistors and ICs, Federico Capasso, Bell Labs
- Protein design, Tracy Handel, Du Pont
- Molecular modeling and design, Jay Ponder, Yale
- Molecular electronics, Robert Birge, Syracuse Univ.
- STM, John Foster, IBM Almaden
- The future of computation, Bill Joy, Sun Microsystems
- Micromachines, Joseph Mallon*, Nova Sensor
- Theoretical limits to computation, Norman Margolus, MIT
- Molecular systems engineering, Eric Drexler
- Panel on technical challenges
- Progress in Japan, Hiroyuki Sasabe, RIKEN
- Medical spinoffs, Greg Fahy, American Red Cross
- Environmental effects, Lester Milbrath, SUNY
- Risk assessment, Ralph Merkle, Xerox PARC
- Economic effects, Gordon Tullock, Univ. of Arizona
- Policy recommendations, Arthur Kantrowitz, Dartmouth
- Panel on consequences
As we go to press we have not received a release form from the
speaker marked with an asterisk, Joseph Mallon, but we hope to be
able to include his talk in the distributed tape sets.
An important note about the videotapes: these were made for
documentary purposes only and are not broadcast quality.
The cost of the audiotape set is $125, with a special price of
$75 for students, nonprofit organizations, and conference
attendees. The cost of the videotape set (in U.S. standard VHS
format) is $225, with a special price of $175 for students,
nonprofit organizations, and conference attendees. To qualify for
the discounted price, students and nonprofit organizations should
include proof of status with their order.
To receive the tapes, send the amount above to the Foresight
Institute at P.O. Box 61058, Palo Alto, CA 94306 USA. California
residents add sales tax; outside the U.S. add $20 for additional
shipping cost. Allow 4-6 weeks for delivery; no P.O. Box
addresses please. Funds may be sent in the form of checks drawn
on a U.S. bank or a postal money order cashable in the U.S.
Much will be happening in March, but as we go to press it is
both too early to report the results, and too late to list them
in Upcoming Events. Here is a list of nanotechnology lectures (by
Eric Drexler) scheduled for March, most in Japan:
- March 5: Burlington Resources (Palm Springs);
- March 9: Exploratory Research for Advanced Technology
(ERATO) Program (Tsukuba, Japan), and AIST/MITI
- March 10: Tokyo Institute of Technology;
- March 12: Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology;
- March 13: University of Tokyo;
- March 14: Micromachine Symposium (Tokyo), and Sony
- March 15: Japan Society for the Promotion of Sciences,
and the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research
- March 16: Protein Engineering Research Institute (Osaka);
- March 22: Distinguished Lecture, Carnegie Mellon School
of Computer Science (Pittsburgh).
[Editor's note: see Eric Drexler's report on his
trip to Japan in Update 9. ]
In the December 9 issue of The Economist, James
Younger presents one of the clearest explanations of
nanotechnology that has appeared in the nontechnical press,
including the concept of assemblers and the possibility of both
beneficial and abusive applications. Not surprising for The
Economist, our favorite newsweekly, which routinely
includes good science and technology coverage.
The December 23 Science News listed the Foresight
Institute's first conference on nanotechnology as one of the top
eight technology stories of the year.
The January Scientific American Science and the
Citizen section included a piece by Timothy Beardsley on the
Foresight Conference. In true journalists' tradition, the writer
did his best to include criticisms of the concepts, but
nanotechnology emerged unscathed.
The Los Angeles Times (Jan. 7) and the Washington
Post (Jan. 14) ran an article by Michael Schrage on the
future of technological advance, including nanotechnology.
The British science and technology series "Tomorrow's
World" shown on BBC-TV (8 February) featured an interview of
Eric Drexler on nanotechnology.
The book Megatrends 2000 by John Naisbitt and
Patricia Aburdeen (William Morrow, 1990) mentions nanotechnology
and the book Engines of Creation.
The March issue of JOM (formerly the Journal
of Metals) is expected to include coverage of the
Foresight Conference by David Forrest, a member of the MIT
Nanotechnology Study Group. Additional coverage of nanotechnology
and the conference is expected in the Whole Earth Review
(Summer 1990 issue) and The Atlantic.
in the Nineties
The journal Science has released its predictions
for the 1990s.
Design by trial and error will be replaced by rational design
with the aid of computers, according to M. Mitchell Waldrop in a
discussion of artificial antibodies, enzymes, and nonprotein
catalysts. The computer technology for molecular simulation will
be on every desktop. Enzymes will be redesigned for industrial
uses by tailoring them for a far greater range of chemical
environments than they now have. New molecularly engineered
layered catalysts will eliminate the need for sulfuric acid and
hydrogen fluoride in important industrial reactions. And the
problem of protein folding will be solved.
Robert Poole predicts that one of the major themes of physics,
chemistry, and materials science in the 1990s will be the
behavior of matter at the nanometer scale. As examples of the hot
research topics of the decade Poole cites quantum well devices,
cluster-assembled materials, and nanocomposites--in which small
grain sizes lead to novel bulk properties and easier processing.
Within the decade someone "is likely to learn how to piece
together atoms and molecules one at a time using the STM."
From Foresight Update 8, originally
published 15 March 1990.
Foresight thanks Dave Kilbridge for converting Update 8 to
html for this web page.