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Foresight Update 48

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A publication of the Foresight Institute


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Inside Foresight

by Tanya Jones

Tanya Jones One problem with accelerating technology is the relative slowness in evolving adaptive behavior. We can foresee technologies that will change our lives for the better, but it is harder to see what changes we will make within ourselves to adapt to greater freedoms and enhanced capability. So when we speak of preparing for nanotechnology and other emerging technologies, exactly what do we mean by that?

Preparing for technology requires that we expect a certain technology will be created and released into the marketplace. We might have some opinion as to whether that development is desirable, and we must have some ideas on how this new technology will change our lives (assuming that it will). Granted, there are times when we adopt something new with little consideration and deal with the changes it inspires later; but when considering technology as far-reaching as nanotechnology, a little more planning seems prudent.

Being a small organization, mostly what we do at Foresight is provide information to the public and sponsor events. We expose people to the ideas of nanotechnology and try to help educate them on this emerging technology so that when nanotechnology truly arrives, it won't be too much of a shock. As people will form independent opinions, really the best we can do is provide information, examples, and explanations to assist them as they form those opinions. Fortunately, the web is ideal for such things and offers a standard that has low barriers to entry; and with rudimentary search technology, people who are interested in nanotechnology will find Foresight. Unfortunately, this is insufficient.

We wish to expand and improve the information we have available. Foresight's website contains a wealth of information on nanotechnology, but we have not evolved beyond the most rudimentary of designs. We have spent more than a decade tracking the propagation of nanotechnology, having begun long before the term (and the science it implied) were generally accepted. We adopted the web as a communication medium when we registered our domain in 1994, but we've let the world pass us by when it comes to using the web to our advantage. Expansion could be as simple as making the information we have clearer, easier to find or by adding more educational materials, more reasons to happen across our site when browsing the web.

We must continue to observe and to learn. Foresight is a difficult thing, and it can only be improved with better and more data, data that we actually study and use to make any necessary course corrections along the way. In the long run, the only way we will continue to make progress is if we adapt to the ever-changing conditions in the world around us. But adapting is hard, and sometimes it requires changing what we think, sometimes it requires changing what we do.

Right now, we're in the middle of a major re-organization within Foresight. We've added staff at the executive level, and now we're becoming more focused in the pursuit of our mission. We've fallen a bit behind over the years at accumulating the data necessary to determine how well we are succeeding in our mission, and we're starting to implement new metrics for gauging success. With changes in the external environment, we're being challenged to get more done with less; and we're looking for new and better ways to open our site and our community to others who share similar interests. In the long run, we're going to keep doing what we do best, spreading the message that nanotechnology should be a good thing for all of us and that it should be developed in safe, ethical, and open fashion.

It may be that the openness portion of our message may become one of the most important parts in the foreseeable future. An Export Control Bill is before the UK Parliament, and the opening paragraph reads:

"Make provision enabling controls to be imposed on the exportation of goods, the transfer of technology, the provision of technical assistance overseas and activities connected with trade in controlled goods; and for connected purposes."

While restricting information makes some sense while a competitive advantage may be obtained in an open market, a bill like this could be interpreted quite broadly, significantly reducing the freedom of researchers to collaborate. It might also limit our ability to educate. These are not good things; but our current level of operation is insufficient to tackle governmental policy, serving to highlight that we need to step up our efforts. We may not have all the answers yet, but we're still looking, thinking, and talking.

If you'd like to hear what Foresight folks are saying in person, then you should consider attending one of our upcoming conferences. We realize that for many reasons, people can't make those conferences; but our conferences aren't the only place where Foresight memes are presented. Our staff and board members get around, most notably Eric Drexler, Chris Peterson, and Ralph Merkle; and we've begun tracking their speaking engagements on our website so that we're not the only ones who know where they'll be speaking. Visit http://www.foresight.org/news/index.html#speak to see the current list for our staff and board members. We highly recommend that you join them at one of these events and get any questions you may have answered in person.

If you're already a Senior Associate, then you might want to take a fresh look at the Senior Associates web site. We've added a search function to the roster, and you can now search for other members in your area or those with similar interests. This site is password protected, and if you can't find the current login information, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Last, but by no means least, we'd like to extend our continuing thanks to all our Foresight supporters out there who are helping us to further our mission, whether that help has come through subscribing to this Foresight Update, signing up as a Senior Associate, attending a conference or three, or helping us to meet the goals in our annual challenge grants. Your contributions have made it possible for Foresight to weather a difficult economic climate, and we hope you'll stay tuned as this great adventure progresses.

Additional reading:

Contact Tanya Jones by eMail at tanya@foresight.org



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Foresight Update 48 - Table of Contents

 

Ray Kurzweil, John Gilmore join Foresight Board of Advisors

Foresight Institute is pleased to announce that Ray Kurzweil, noted author, inventor and technologist, and John Gilmore, an equally-distinguished computer expert and open-source advocate, have joined the Foresight Institute's Board of Advisors.

More information about the new Foresight Advisors can be found on the home pages of John Gilmore (http://www.toad.com/gnu/) and Ray Kurzweil (http://www.kurzweiltech.com/aboutray.html).

Ray Kurzweil
 
  "I'm excited to strengthen my relationship with the Foresight Institute, an organization that has been contributing important insights into multifarious intersecting technological revolutions, while addressing how best to foster their promise while avoiding their peril."  
  — Ray Kurzweil  
 
John Gilmore
 
  "Foresight has been advising me on the social impacts of technology for more than a decade. I'm pleased to be able to advise Foresight in areas where I happen to know more. We've been talking about successful business models that don't limit peoples' right to make copies. We're also seeking to understand the conflicts between absolute intellectual property protection and our society's foundational rights of inquiry, expression, and competition."  
  — John Gilmore  
 

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Nanotechnology Opportunity Report (NOR) is now available, at a discount to members of the Foresight community

The Nanotechnology Opportunity Report (NOR) is now available! The 500-page, two-volume report is the distillation of input from over 50 people from all areas of nanotechnology, including a board of 20 advisors from academia, industry and the investment community.

Volume One of the report identifies six key areas of short-term investment opportunity, highlights the major trends occurring on a global basis, and clearly and concisely explains all the technologies, their applications, the dynamics of the markets they will impact and the nature of the opportunities for investors. Volume Two profiles 455 companies working on nanotechnology, 271 leading academic institutions in 29 countries and 95 firms already investing in nanotechnology.

In conjunction with Foresight Institute, CMP Cientifica is pleased to offer a special price for the NOR.

Substantial discounts on the full report are available to the Foresight community: $200 off if you order the report through Foresight Institute, and $400 off if you are a Foresight or IMM Senior Associate.

A free White Paper that previews the NOR contents is also available. For details, see: http://www.foresight.org/nano/NOR.html


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Foresight Update 48 - Table of Contents

 

Editorial: Keeping the Update up-to-date

by Richard P. Terra, Update Editor

Richard P. Terra There are a few changes in both the appearance and the content of Foresight Update, beginning with this issue.

In this issue, Jim Lewis takes over the "Recent Progress" column from outgoing columnist Jeff Soreff. While he's taking a well-deserved break from writing a very research-intensive regular column, Jeff will continue to appear in the pages of the Update with occasional articles and other items, such as his book review that appears in this issue.

Jim Lewis holds a Ph.D. in Chemistry and has held positions as a researcher with Bristol-Myers Squibb and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (both in Seattle). He currently consults on technologies leading to molecular manufacturing and nanotechnology, and also serves as the Foresight Institute Webmaster. Jim's first "Recent Progress" column appears as IMM Report 30.

Also, we'll be expanding our coverage of the business of nanotechnology — private R&D efforts, venture capital investment, attempts to commercialize early nano-scale materials and devices, and public policy — to reflect the growing private sector involvement in the field. Coverage in this issue begins here.

Finally, we'll be adding some new occasional features. The first of these, a look at natural nanomachine systems, appears here. As bioscience research reveals the detailed structural and functional characteristics of these natural nano-devices, we'll run additional installments.



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Foresight Update 48 - Table of Contents

 

Nano Tech Briefs

HP-UCLA team announces yet another molecular electronics patent

According to a Hewlett-Packard Company press release (23 January 2002), the collaborative research team led by James Heath, a UCLA chemistry professor and staff researcher at the California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI), and Stanley Williams and Philip Kuekes at Hewlett-Packard Laboratories has announced another advance in their research program to develop computing systems based on molecular electronic components, which has been awarded a patent by the U.S. Patent Office. HP was previously awarded patents for related molectronics work in July 2001 and October 2000.

For more information on the team's previous work, see the articles in Foresight Update issues #44 and #42. The team was jointly awarded the 2000 Foresight Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology for Experimental Work (see Update #43).

Nanotubes may form gigahertz oscillators

According to a report in the 28 January 2002 issue of Physical Review Letters , researchers have calculated that a group of concentric nanotubes nested inside an outer set of tubes can slide back and forth a billion times every second. Such a gigahertz oscillator could be a major advance in nanotechnology that would enable applications such as ultra-fast optical filters and nano-antennae. The researchers contend that the low friction between tubes — a tenth or less of the nano-newton-scale attractive force — allows the ensuing oscillation to match a Pentium 4 computer chip's speed in processing electronic signals, and that this demonstrates the feasibility of fabricating such devices.

Some readers of this article may find interesting echoes of the rod logic mechanical nanocomputer proposed by K. Eric Drexler back in 1988. [See Nanosystems and this talk from 1989]

Researchers say nanotube 'peapods' have tunable electronic properties

According to a press release (3 Jan. 2002), researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Pennsylvania have discovered that carbon nanotubes packed with fullerene spheres, like so many peas in a pod, have tunable electronic properties. They reported their work in the 3 January 2002 issue of Science.

To explore the properties of these novel nanostructures, Ali Yazdani, a professor of physics at UI, and coworkers used a low-temperature scanning tunneling microscope to image the physical structure of individual peapods and to map the motion of electrons inside them. The encapsulated fullerenes modify the electronic properties of the nanotube without affecting its atomic structure. "In contrast to unfilled nanotubes, peapods exhibit additional electronic features that are strongly dependent on the location along the tube," Yazdani said.

Because the local electronic properties of single-wall nanotubes can be selectively modified by the encapsulation of a single molecule, the technique might one day be used to define on-tube electronic devices, the researchers said.

This potential application has quickly been realized, at least in part. An article on the Small Times website ("South Koreans create building blocks for tiny, tailor-made nano-tranistors", by Peg Brickley, 27 February 2002) describes work by South Korean scientists at Seoul National University who packed nanotubes with tiny spherical fullerene molecules to create regions of varying semiconducting properties within each tube. The result is a hollow structure containing the equivalent of a series of tiny transistors far smaller than any now in existence, according to their research report that appeared in the 28 February 2002 issue of Nature.


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From Foresight Update 48, originally published 31 March 2002.



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