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January 20, 2004: Federal Nanotech Confusion Spreads to California

Michael Crichton Mistaken for Richard Feynman

Palo Alto, CA January 20, 2004 A report released today in Sacramento indicates that U.S. federal confusion over nanotechnology's original goal has spread to the state of California, where the concept originated. The report, "Nanoscience and Nanotechnology: Opportunities and Challenges in California," was released today at a meeting of the state's Joint Committee on "Preparing California for the 21st Century."

Christine Peterson, president of the California-based Foresight Institute, addressed the Committee meeting: "The original goal for nanotechnology -- systems of molecular machines, building cleanly with atom-by-atom precision, as described by Nobel physicist Richard Feynman -- is entirely absent from the report. His name does not even appear. Instead, the concept of molecular machines appears only in the form of 'plagues of self-replicating nanobots,' as in Michael Crichton's thriller Prey. The environmental benefits of molecular manufacturing may be needlessly delayed by this confusion." Foresight is the leading public interest group in nanotechnology.

Ray Kurzweil, a National Medal of Technology winner who serves on Foresight's Board of Advisors, commented: "While the report has its visionary elements -- such as projecting 'intracellular intelligent machines' within 15 years -- the omission of molecular machine systems is extremely disappointing and, if not corrected, may contribute to the state losing its natural lead in this area." (over) Prof. Ralph Merkle, a winner of the Foresight Institute Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology and current chair of the Prize Committee, stated, "This confusion was distressing enough when it first appeared in Washington, but it is far more so in California, where Feynman set the goal in 1959 at Caltech. It's true that Caltech and Hollywood -- where Michael Crichton thriller films are made -- are not far apart geographically, but Californians should know the difference."

Building with atomic precision using molecular machine systems, also known as molecular manufacturing, is seen as a key technology for the environment, medicine, and defense. "This proposed technology -- the 'nanofactory' -- is our best hope for ending chemical pollution as we know it today," said Peterson. "California's strengths in design, systems engineering, and software -- combined with its strong interest in restoring the natural environment -- give it an edge in this area. The state's proposed Nanotechnology Research and Workforce Advisory Council should include molecular manufacturing as a major focus."

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Foresight Institute, founded in 1986, is a nonprofit educational organization formed to help prepare society for anticipated advanced technologies. Foresight Institute's goal is to guide emerging technologies to improve the human condition. Foresight Institute focuses its efforts upon nanotechnology and upon systems that will enhance knowledge exchange and critical discussion, thus improving public and private policy decisions.

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