|Foresight Update 30 - Table of Contents|
Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology is
"clearly going to be the most scientifically significant and
best attended event in Foresight Institute's history," says Ralph Merkle, cochair of the
The conference is jointly chaired by Merkle, of Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, and Al Globus of MJR Inc./NASA, two leading researchers in the field of nanotechnolology.
Concurrent with the Conference, Foresight will hold a first-ever "Tutorial on Critical Enabling Technologies for Nanotechnology," organized by Deepak Srivastava of NAS/NASA.
The conference will be held November 6-8 at the Hyatt Hotel in Palo Alto, CA. The Tutorial will be held Nov. 5 at the same facility. Attendance for both events will be limited by facility capacity, so early registration is advised.
For those with long planning horizons, Foresight also has announced plans to hold Molecular Nanotechnology conferences annually beginning in 1998. The Sixth Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology will be held on November 13-15, 1998, at the Westin Hotel in Santa Clara, CA. The Tutorial will be on November 12. The 1998 event will be cochaired by Globus and Srivastava of NASA.
The Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology is a meeting of scientists and technologists working in fields leading toward molecular nanotechnology: thorough three-dimensional structural control of materials and devices at the molecular level.
As reported in the previous issue of Update, scheduled speakers comprise the nation's leading nanotechnology researchers, including Nobel Laureate Richard E. Smalley, head of the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology at Rice University, who will deliver the keynote address. A full list of invited speakers is available on the World Wide Web.
In addition to 14 invited speakers, 35 additional speakers have been selected from among 99 abstracts submitted for consideration, Merkle says. Indication of the scientific fervor expected at the conference comes from abstracts submitted before Update's press deadline by some of the scheduled speakers:
Five corporate sponsors have now committed financial support for the conference:
Proceedings of the conference will be published in a special
edition of the journal Nanotechnology.
Please refer to the conference brochure for registration information. For more information, including Web links to all speakers and registration forms are available online, or from Foresight Institute at 650.917.1122.
|Foresight Update 30 - Table of Contents|
Before reading this column, flip to the back
page of your newsletteror if you're reading on the web, go
to the Upcoming Events
calendarand look over the long list of
nanotechnology-relevant meetings we're tracking.
Meetings per se do not prove that the field is making good progress, but if you're on the web, take a look at the programs for these meetings. As I did this, the thought kept recurring: "things are moving fast." See whether this happens to you, too.
I'm betting that it will. There's a lot happening on the technical front, and not just media hype and speculation, though there is plenty of that as well. But it's clear that nanotechnology is starting to move into the "Moore's Law"-like expectation pattern: technical people are beginning to agree that it's only a matter of time. And by using Moore's Law itself, you can even project a credible date of arrival, around 2015. Estimates of that date depend on who's guessing, but the median guess has dropped fast over the past three years.
What is to be done? I've been trying this analogy: to me it
feels as though there's a freight train far off, but heading
straight this way. People far and wide are starting to look up,
see the speck on the horizon, and hear the first faint noise of
its coming. More and more of them see that the choice is to jump
on the train, or get left behind. So they're starting to run
toward the tracks.
As supporters of Foresight and IMM, we're already next to the trackssometimes, it feels as though we at the main office are actually on the tracks, as more activity funnels through our organizations, and more attention focuses on the principals as individuals. When that happensespecially personal media focusthe urge we feel as technologists is to withdraw. But we're fighting this urge, and I hope that you as members will fight it as well, if and when it hits you.
Sooner or later, your colleagues will realize that your interest in this topic has put you ahead of the crowd, and will ask for your views and recommendations. For example, we at the Foresight office get frequent requests for advice that could be labeled "Business Opportunities of the Singularity," to use a term from Vernor Vinge's fiction to describe a time of drastic change. Such advice is impossible to give, but there's a bright side to the question: people are starting to grapple with the coming changes in terms of foresighted action.
Recently Foresight Chairman Eric Drexler addressed the annual meeting of the American Bar Association in a session examining foreseeable major technological changes. One phrase that kept recurring was "Feel the fear"an acknowledgement that the changes coming are so large that it's hard to think about them clearly and calmly. But they are at least starting to try.
Diligent insistence by Philippe Van Nedervelde in Belgium,
supported by effective action on the part of Christopher Portman,
has resulted in Foresight leasing office space in the Mayfair
district of London, just north of Marble Arch in Hyde Park. It's
clear that we need more interaction with people outside "the
States," and London is a natural crossroadsa Schelling
point for international organizations. With this new facility,
and Philippe in Brusselshome of the European
UnionForesight will be in position to make a name in
We're not ready for visitors; to my knowledge there isn't even any office furniture there yet. But we're looking forward to building a strong European team. Next on the agenda: Asia.
Thinking clearly about complex issues is hard at best, and
harder yet when we're expecting deep transformations in such
life-and-death fields as medicine and defense. That's why we've
been working on social software, as outlined in Engines of
In the last Update, I described progress on Foresight's Web Enhancement Project, saying that things were moving fast. In fact, by the time you received the paper version of that newsletter, this news was obsolete. I wrote about our efforts to redirect after finding out about some flaws in the commercial software HyperWave. Since then, Dave Forrest has succeeded at convincing the company that they should implement fine-grained linking and give Foresight a special deal on our license.
But that's not why my column was obsolete. Even before Dave's success, University of Waterloo student Ka-Ping Yee had coded a backlink mediator program for us. It works like this: readers log into Foresight's server and request a particular URL; our server pulls in the original text, folds in comments by others (backlinks), then sends the enriched document to the readers. It looks like the original text, but with the live backlinks displayed as small colored markers: green for agreement, red for "taking issue" (i.e. disagreement), and so on. We're setting up a backlink server.
Since then, Terry Stanley has coded up a version of CritMap, a
graphical display for both the links and backlinks in the
document, enabling the reader to get an overview of a connected
set of documents, rather than hopping from page to page with no
picture of the context. CritMap will be accessed through a button
in the mediator program.
The backlink mediator program runs in parallel with a web server, and the source code is in the public domain. Foresight's server will almost surely choke on the traffic as soon as growth takes off; we need other sites to pick up the software and install it, later sharing backlink databases. We're not ready to do this yet, but we will be soon: check the site for the latest information.
Ping and Terry are being assisted and advised by other
designers and programmers, some of whom have been working on
hypertext publishing-related projects for decades, at companies
such as Xanadu, AMiX, Memex, Sun, Agorics, and Electric
Communities-or on their own time while employed elsewhere.
Robert Lucky, head of Bellcore, spoke at the Association for Computing Machinery's 50th Anniversary, saying "If we couldn't predict the Web, what good are we?" In fact, some did predict the webmost notably Ted Nelson and Doug Engelbartwhich is why we who were inspired by their vision can see where today's web needs improvement. See the "Thanks" columns in this and the previous issue of Update for a very partial list of helpful programmers and visionariesmany more have helped than we can list, or even than we know about directly.
Now that backlinks are working, we're turning our attention to the next urgent task: filtering. Hot spots for discussion will become a dense thicket of backlinks, of varying content and quality. We need mechanisms that select which backlinks to display, using criteria selected and adjusted by the reader. This is urgent; without it, the system will be almost unusable.
It must be made usable, because we need it. We need it for discussing the public policy issues confronting us, as the freight train of nanotechnology heads this way. Existing media are so disconnected from reality that our policy debates still spin around a fantasy world in which the future looks far too much like the past. And that's just not good enoughwe might as well lie down on the tracks.
But with better tools and the best minds working the problem together, we at Foresight are optimistic that the challenge can be metthat we can ride the wave of revolutionary technological change to a safe shore.
Chris Peterson is Executive Director of Foresight Institute.
From Foresight Update 30, originally published 1 September 1997.
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