Foresight Update 12
A publication of the Foresight Institute
from MIT Press
Many Foresight members and others have asked when the
proceedings from the First
Foresight Conference on Nanotechnology will be available. We
are happy to announce that the proceedings are scheduled to be
published by MIT Press by the end of 1991. The book will be
produced in hardcover with nearly 100 illustrations and several
color plates. Production costs will determine the final price,
but the Press hopes to make the volume available for $35. (Those
familiar with the high prices common for hardcover science books
will recognize that this is an excellent price.)
The working title is Nanotechnology: The First Foresight
Conference. James Lewis and I are
the editors. Dr. Lewis brought the project from its initial stage
(a set of taped lectures) to a coherent draft that could be sent
to prospective publishers. Then the manuscript came to me for
negotiations with publishers, and the final rounds of editing and
production. We were gratified by the responses from potential
publishers: many were interested in the topic, and the final
decision on which publisher to select was a difficult one.
The volume consists of papers based on the presentations made at
the conference, two panel discussions, and two historical
appendices. The material covers a wide range of subjects relevant
Part I: Introduction to Nanotechnology
- "Chairman's Overview and Introduction" by K.
Eric Drexler, Stanford University
Part II: Molecular Systems Engineering
- "Atomic Imaging and Positioning" by John
- "Molecular Modeling and Design" by Jay Ponder,
- "Protein Design" by Tracy Handel, Du Pont
- "Design of Self-Assembling Molecular Systems:
Electrostatic Structural Enforcement in Low-Dimensional
Molecular Solids" by Michael Ward, Du Pont
- "Molecular Engineering in Japan: Progress toward
Nanotechnology" by Hiroyuki Sasabe, RIKEN
- "Strategies for Molecular Systems Engineering"
by K. Eric Drexler, Stanford University
Part III: Related Technologies
- "Molecular Electronics" by Robert Birge,
- "Quantum Transistors and Integrated Circuits"
by Federico Capasso, AT&T Bell Labs
- "Theoretical Limits to Computation" by Norman
- "Nanotechnology from a Micromachinist's
Viewpoint" by Joseph Mallon, Nova Sensor
- Technical panel: "What are the major problems to be
overcome in designing and building molecular
Part IV: Implications
- "Medical Applications of Nanotechnology: Hints from
the Field of Aging Research" by Greg Fahy, American
- "Hopes and Fears of an Environmentalist for
Nanotechnologies" by Lester Milbrath, State
University of New York at Buffalo
- "The Future of Computation" by Bill Joy, Sun
- "Risk Assessment" by Ralph Merkle, Xerox PARC
- "Economic Consequences of New Technologies" by
Gordon Tullock, University of Arizona
- "The Weapon of Openness" by Arthur Kantrowitz,
- Panel: "What public policy pitfalls can be avoided
in nanotechnology development and regulation?"
- "Machines of Inner Space" by K. Eric Drexler.
Reprinted from the 1990 Yearbook of Science and the
Future, by permission of Encyclopaedia Britannica,
- "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom" by
Richard Feynman, 1959. Reprinted from Engineering
and Science, February 1960, by permission of the
California Institute of Technology.
This will be the first technical book available on the topic,
and we hope that you will encourage your local and university
libraries to order a copy when it becomes available. (If they
can't, please consider donating one.) Over half of the profits
generated by this volume will directly further the work of the
The conference was hosted by Stanford University's Department of
Computer Science and co-sponsored (with the Foresight Institute)
by Global Business Network.
BC Crandall is also editing a book on applications, entitled Nanotechnology
and the Culture of Abundance.
[Editor's note: The publication of this book
in Update 15; copies can be ordered using the
Foresight Book Order Form.]
Books are listed in increasing order of specialization and
reading challenge. Your suggestions are welcome. And remember, if
a book's price looks too high, your library should be able to get
it through interdepartmental loan.--Editor
Hardball: How Politics is Played, Told by One Who Knows
the Game, by Christopher Matthews, Harper & Row,
1989, softcover, $8.95. As nanotechnology approaches funding and
moves toward policy formulation, we'll need to understand how
Washington works. Here's the straight (and entertaining) story.
The Art of the Long View, by Peter
Schwartz, Doubleday, 1991, hardcover, $20. Superb guide to
how to look ahead using scenario planning, by the president of
Global Business Network. To be reviewed in a later issue.
The Magic Machine: a Handbook of Computer Sorcery,
by A.K. Dewdney, W.H. Freeman, 1990, softcover, $15.95. A
collection of his columns from Scientific American,
including one on nanocomputers.
Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on
Scanning Tunneling Microscopy/Spectroscopy and First
International Conference on Nanometer Scale Science and
Technology, eds. Richard J. Colton et al, American
Institute of Physics, 1991, hardcover. Same as the 1991 Mar/Apr Journal
of the Vacuum Science and Technology B, which is much
easier to find. An excellent collection of recent proximal probe
experimental work. Includes a proposal for a protoassembler (on
the path to molecular nanotechnology): "Molecular tip arrays
for molecular imaging and nanofabrication" by Drexler.
Course in Nanotechnology
Prof. Dean Taylor will be teaching a class in nanotechnology
at Cornell University this fall. The course will be offered in
the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering School and will be
taught at a level appropriate for seniors and master's degree
candidates. Taylor plans to use the latest draft of the book Molecular
Nanotechnology: Principles of Molecular Machines and Computation
(Eric Drexler, in progress for 1992 publication) as a textbook.
Taylor reports: "I don't know if anyone from outside the
School will want to take the course, but generally anyone with a
technical background will be welcome. We will take a very strong
analytical approach to the subject much as Eric does in his
upcoming book. This is not a Scientific American
survey course of topics in the area, but instead is intended to
introduce students to the area by completing appropriate
analytical problems. The course is intended to lead to a project
which will involve questions of design of nanomechanical devices.
I think that the Cornell National Supercomputer Facility will
make a reasonable amount of cycles available so the students can
undertake modeling of some complex structures.
"Obviously this course is new, and I will be developing the
direction, material, examples, and assignments as we go."
For further information, contact: Prof. D. L. Taylor, Sibley
School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Cornell
University, 219 Upson Hall, Ithaca, NY14853; tel (607) 255-0990;
The Foresight Institute receives hundreds of letters
requesting information and sending ideas. Herewith some excerpts:
Nanotechnology would be very good and very bad for the idea of
human settlements not on a planetary surface [described in The
High Frontier by Gerard K. O'Neill]. Specifically, it
makes the concept both possible and unnecessary.
Nanotechnology should make O'Neill's idea feasible by making
construction of extraterrestrial settlements far cheaper than
they otherwise would be. This is important, because high cost is
probably the most important impediment to the realization of
extraterrestrial settlement. Nanotechnology should also help by
making it feasible to have a completely closed ecology with
molecular machines instead of biological organisms.
It seems to me that nanotechnology would also destroy most of the
rationale for space settlements. The primary justification put
forward by O'Neill et al. was to build solar energy satellites to
satisfy Earth's electricity needs. The development of
nanotechnology should make it possible to obtain considerable
amounts of energy at low cost with ground-based solar energy or
geothermal energy. The manufacture of items in space will also
disappear as a rationale for the settlement or industrialization
of space. Yet another reason for space colonization was to remove
polluting industries from Earth. This was a weak reason from the
beginning; it would be cheaper to improve pollution control
technology. But with nanotechnology, this reason disappears.
Manufacturing with nanotechnology is likely to be virtually
It is quite possible that I am being too pessimistic. There may
be other reasons for extraterrestrial settlement that I have not
John W. Martin
You are right to point out that many of the earlier strategies
for making space industrialization into a paying proposition will
be made obsolete once molecular manufacturing is in place.
However, solar power satellites (and so forth) were regarded as
short-term tactics in the long-term strategy of space settlement.
The primary motivations have not changed: space resources exist,
and life expands to take advantage of unused resources. Further,
the fate of the dinosaurs shows that it would be unwise to
restrict all the diversity of today's biosphere to one vulnerable
planetary surface. Nanotechnology should lower costs to the point
that we can afford to put our eggs in more than one basket. See the article
elsewhere in this issue on the National Space Society's
conference coverage of nanotechnology.--Editor
On the active shield concept
outlined in Engines of Creation:
The active shield is somewhat naive because even if such a shield
were developed it could in certain circumstances be breached,
especially by a militarily-minded opponent. Also the idea that
each country or culture can have its own shield is not
necessarily a good idea, as it's important for other countries
and organizations to be able to "interfere" to protect
against human rights abuses, etc. Interference, for
genuinely justifiable reasons of course, is vital to the progress
of mankind, as can be seen throughout history.
Keith P. Byrne
The question of how to both enable adequate defenses and still
protect human rights will become increasingly difficult as
military technologies advance. Imagine the recent Gulf War with
nanotechnology-based weapons on both sides, or on only the wrong
side. This is the sort of complex issue we plan to explore in
greater detail when adequate hypertext discussion software
becomes available, perhaps this year.--Editor
One of Foresight's main goals is to communicate the concepts
of nanotechnology and molecular manufacturing to members of
various groups, from scientists to students. You can help us
refine these explanations: How do the people you know
generally react to these ideas? Please write us and describe your
experiences explaining nanotechnology to others. Which ideas are
easy to get across and which are difficult? Which examples and
explanations are most effective? How do these depend on the
listener's background? Please describe any problems you've
encountered. And, last, please tell us a bit about yourself. Send
to Foresight Institute, Attn: Conversations, PO Box 61058, Palo
Alto, CA 94306; or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Editor's note: Foresight's current email address is
The Foresight Institute aims to help society prepare for new
and future technologies, such as nanotechnology, artificial
intelligence, and large-scale space development, by:
- promoting understanding of these technologies and their
- formulating sound policies for gaining their benefits
while avoiding their dangers,
- informing the public and decision makers regarding these
technologies and policies,
- developing an organizational base for implementing these
- ensuring their implementation.
Foresight has a special interest in nanotechnology: at this
early stage, it receives relatively little attention (considering
its importance), giving even a small effort great leverage. We
believe certain basic considerations must guide policy:
Nanotechnology will let us control the structure of matter--but
who will control nanotechnology? The chief danger isn't a great
accident, but a great abuse of power. In a competitive world,
nanotechnology will surely be developed; if we are to guide its
use, it must be developed by groups within our political reach.
To keep it from being developed in military secrecy, either here
or abroad, we must emphasize its value in medicine, in the
economy, and in restoring the environment. Nanotechnology must be
developed openly to serve the general welfare.
[Editor's note: See current statement of
Foresight Institute Purpose and
From Foresight Update 12, originally
published 1 August 1991.
Foresight thanks Dave Kilbridge for converting Update 12 to
html for this web page.