Foresight Update 12
A publication of the Foresight Institute
Component Markets: Why Not?
Society is increasingly dependent on the quality, reliability,
and security of the software governing the systems and products
we use, from telephones system and military systems to our
automobiles and even washing machines. In Update 11
Norm Hardy examined the prospects for better security against
viruses and other outside attacks through the use of secure
operating systems. One can also ask the more general question of
how software can be made better in quality and reliability.
In the case of most products, improvements are made gradually:
copies of the same item are used by many customers, who make
their views known by refusing to buy again, complaining, or even
returning the product in disgust. This process works for consumer
software which is sold in many copies. But much software of
importance is produced and used within a company or organization:
how could the producers of such software take advantage of the
process of gradual improvement based on customer reaction?
If software could be written in functional chunks, and fit
together in a modular fashion to perform different tasks, these
chunks could be bought and sold. While modularity is increasing,
we don't yet see a vigorous software components market. The
question of why not is being pursued by the the Agorics Project
team at George Mason University's Center for the Study of Market
Processes. Here are some excerpts from their proposal to study
"A vigorous software components industry would mean enormous
benefits to both producers and consumers of software--on this
point actors in the software industry broadly agree. Widespread
reuse of software components would mean greater productivity,
more rapid innovation and improvements in quality, lower cost,
more timely product development and delivery, and greater ability
to cope with complexity.
"But such an industry is frustratingly slow in developing.
Far from using standard, well-established building blocks in
assembling their software systems, today's software engineers
spend a tremendous amount of time and creativity reinventing and
rebuilding what has been built before--often many times over.
"To be sure, there has been progress: The development of
object-oriented technologies especially appears to be a crucial
step in enabling the development of a software component
industry. In addition there are improvements in network
connectivity and database technologies which should allow for
effective communication in component markets.
"But extensive production and marketing of reusable software
components have not developed. Why not? What further changes need
to take place to catalyze the development of a vigorous software
component industry? The purpose of the study proposed here is to
find out answers to these questions.
"The study will pay special attention to the
interrelationships between technological developments, on the one
hand, and economic, legal, and institutional factors on the
other. While we are very interested in and closely follow the
technological developments, as economists we expect to make few
specifically technological suggestions in this study. Rather we
will focus on background, analysis, and projections of the
non-technological issues which will shape the success of
"This overview should be a valuable resource to all who
would participate in the development of the software components
industry. Those approaching it from the technological standpoint
will gain insight into the economic and cultural factors that
constrain the success chances of new technologies, and those
approaching it from the business standpoint will gain insight
into the technical possibilities it might be profitable to
The project leader is Prof. Don Lavoie, ably assisted by advanced
graduate students Howard Baetjer, Bill Tulloh, and Kevin Lacobie,
all of whom are conversant with both economics and programming.
Funders wishing to participate in the project can contact CSMP at
703-993-1142; fax 703-993-1133.
Special thanks go to Chris Rodgers for two years of highly
competent Foresight work; she leaves us now to continue a career
in the theatre.
Special thanks are due to Fred Stitt, who served as publisher of Foresight
Update for its first four years. His assistance during
these early years has been greatly appreciated.
Thanks also to:
- Stewart Cobb for taking on the main leadership position
within the new Molecular Manufacturing Shortcut Group
within the National Space Society.
- BC Crandall for his arduous work on completing the
Foresight conference proceedings (MIT Press, late 1991).
- James Lewis for his earlier (also arduous) work at the
start of the proceedings project.
- Marc Stiegler, Ray Alden, and Jim Bennett for founding
IMM; Lynne Morrill for directing it; Eric Dean Tribble
for recruiting Miss Morrill.
- ERATO researcher Christopher Jones and Kiyomi Hutchings
for Japanese translation help.
- Ralph Merkle and Leonard Zubkoff for computer time and
- Gayle Pergamit for screening job candidates.
- Ted Kaehler for organizing the successful nanotechnology
discussion group within CPSR, and much other help.
- Mark Hopkins, Margaret Jordan, Duncan Forbes, and many
others for support within NSS.
Thanks to the following for sending technical articles and
media coverage: Joe Bonaventura, Jim Conyngham, Doug Denholm,
Robert Edberg, S.F. Elton, Jerry Fass, D.J. Fears, Joseph Fine,
Dave Forrest, W.C. Gaines, A.P. Hald, William Hale, G. Houston,
Stan Hutchings, Christopher Jones, Marie-Louise Kagan, Cherie
Kushner, Henry Lahore, Tom McKendree, Bob Newbell, John
Papiewski, John Primiani, E.A. Reitman, Naomi Reynolds, Jeffrey
Soreff, Alvin Steinberg, Ralph Tookey, and Jack Veach.
From our "Thanks"
column it's clear that many readers are already sending in
articles, both technical and nontechnical. We'd like to make this
more systematic for the technical articles, with volunteers
agreeing to monitor specific journals. If you routinely look at
one or more of the following and are willing to send us copies of
relevant articles, please contact us: Angewandt Chemie,
JACS, J. Appl. Phys., Appl. Phys
Lett., Protein Engineering, J.
Computational Chemistry, J. Molecular Electronics.
As always, articles from other publications are welcome. We
already monitor Science, Nature, and Science
News. We'd also appreciate help from Japan in identifying
relevant journals and obtaining abstracts in English of key
Someone with routine access to NEXIS could help us by running
periodic searches on the word nanotechnology.
Layout help is needed on the Macintosh, using PageMaker software.
We are in need of the following materials and help: a fax machine
and a laser printer for the Macintosh. Office space in the Palo
Alto area is needed as well. Volunteers with legal or fundraising
experience are needed. Note that donations of equipment or funds
are tax-deductible in the U.S. as charitable contributions.
If you or your company can help with any of the above, please
call us at 415-324-2490.
from the Top-Down
Book Review by Tihamer Toth-Fejel
Nanostructure Physics and Fabrication: Proceedings of
the International Conference, ed. Mark A. Reed and Wiley
P. Kirk, Academic Press, 1989, $64.50.
For decades the goal in electronics has been to make devices
smaller, with the benefits of greater speed and lower cost. This
progression--smaller, faster, cheaper--can be plotted on a graph
to give a smooth curve: so smooth that it's tempting to assume
that the process will simply continue as it has until the
ultimate limits are reached.
The techniques now used in micron-and submicron-scale electronics
have been described by Drexler as the top-down approach to
miniaturization: bits and pieces of a larger structure are
removed until the desired structure remains--like sculpting.
Despite the stunning (and continuing) successes of this approach,
it breaks down when molecular precision is desired. Because the
starting material doesn't have each atom in a desired location,
the final product doesn't either.
To get an object with each atom where we want it, the object has
to be constructed that way from scratch: this is called the bottom-up
approach, described in Drexler's book Engines of Creation. In a
new technical book, due out in spring1992, he explains how
positional chemistry will lead to a broad ability to perform
molecular manufacturing. Products would of course include
Given this theoretical advantage, why are so many (including the
editors of Nanostructure Physics) still pursuing the
top-down path? Simply put, the top-down approach has not yet
reached its limits, and improved devices can be made much faster
this way than by figuring out how to implement the bottom-up
While STMs can write the world's smallest advertisement--the IBM
logo using 35 xenon atoms--no useful structures have yet been
built. Further, before commercially-viable quantities of
electronics can be built with molecular precision, we will need a
highly-parallel system, using molecular machines for molecular
Top-down researchers are intrigued nonetheless. Yale's Mark Reed
feels that in order for nanostructures to succeed commercially,
they must be built bottom-up, because the error rate
from the top-down approach is too expensive. Wiley Kirk of Texas
A&M believes that studying simple structures (which are all
we can build using the top-down approach) is more rewarding at
this point, because their lower complexity makes it possible to
understand the fundamental processes at work. He also believes
that the two points of view--top-down and bottom-up--will merge
in ten to twenty years.
Fortunately, devices constructed with existing top-down
techniques can give scientific data that are relevant for all
molecular-scale electronics, regardless of how they're made;
that's why Nanostructure Physics and Fabrication is
of interest even to those looking at the long term. It is,
however, a difficult book: If you are not in the field, even if
you've studied quantum mechanics and graduate-level solid state
physics, you will probably find most of it too technical.
For those wishing a quick introduction to some of the concepts
involved, I highly recommend R. Reed's article in Byte
(May 1989) on "The Quantum Transistor" and Mark A.
Clarkson's "The Quest for the Molecular Computer" in
the same issue. Clarkson's article is especially relevent; it
references Engines and leans toward the narrow
definition of nanotechnology. Another good introduction is Claude
Weisbuch's chapter in Semiconductors and Semimetals,
Volume 24, edited by Raymond Dingle. Academic Press will soon
release an expanded version of this chapter as a textbook (title
unknown at this time).
The serious reader can dig into Nanostructure Physics and
Fabrication. Most of the book consists of papers delivered
at a symposium held at College Station, Texas, from March 13-15,
1989. It is a scientific study of nanostructures, mostly with
respect to nanoelectronics, with many papers full of
quantum-mechanical equations. Realizing the difficulty of their
subject, the editors did not simply collect the papers from the
symposium. The book starts with an overview and background,
continuing with three introductory papers to introduce readers to
the topic. Because of the electrical engineering emphasis, the
most interesting consequence of this important work is that it
shows how quantum-electronic nanodevices can work faster than
those implemented in rod logic.
Though quantum mechanics has been around since 1923, it is only
recently that electrons have been observed demonstrating
nonclassical transport behavior in electronic components. This
behavior was only observable in limited, low-temperature and
complex many-bodied systems, but now nanostructures make it
possible to observe "large scale" quantum effects. For
- Large quantum tunneling effects can be observed in
resonant tunneling structures, showing that
artificially-induced quantum states could show
nonclassical electron transport.
- The fabrication of semiconductor quantum wires, so that
quantum transport becomes dominant, makes the wave nature
of the electron very apparent, leading to electron
waveguides similar to their microwave counterparts
(though six orders of magnitude smaller).
- When the number of carriers becomes countably small, the
quantized conductance of ballistic point contacts opens
up an entire area of quantum interference-effect devices.
The rest of the book contains numerous technical papers on
lateral periodicity and confinement, quantum devices and
transistors, equilibrium and nonequilibrium response in
nanoelectronic structures, quantum wires and ballistic point
contacts, and related structures and phenomena.
A symposium on similar topics, "Nanostructures and
Mesoscopic Systems," was held in Santa Fe on May 20-24,
1991. Leading researchers from MIT, Yale, U.C. Santa Barbara, IBM
Watson, Bell Labs, and Texas Instruments presented their results.
Tihamer Toth-Fejel is a Research Engineer at the Industrial
Technology Institute (Ann Arbor, Michigan) and did his master's
thesis on self-replicating automata. He can be reached at
313-769-4248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
From Foresight Update 12, originally
published 1 August 1991.
Foresight thanks Dave Kilbridge for converting Update 12 to
html for this web page.