Foresight Update 31
A publication of the Foresight Institute
Computer Pioneer Douglas Engelbart
Joins Foresight Institute
Board of Advisors
Computer science pioneer Douglas Carl
Engelbart, Ph.D., has joined the Board of Advisors of
Foresight Institute. Engelbart is founder of Bootstrap Institute, a
non-profit organization dedicated to bootstrapping organizations
and institutions into the 21st Century. His career spans more
than 30 years of predicting, designing, and implementing the
future of organizational computing.
Engelbart is perhaps most famous for having invented the
computer mouse, but its patent is only one of 20 he holds in
computing technology. He is creditedamong his many
accomplishmentswith seminal advances that have made
possible many of the functions that are now taken for granted in
modern computing, including hypermedia, on-screen video
teleconferencing, and software features such as multiple windows,
flexible view control, and cross-file editing.
"Having Doug Engelbart as a Foresight Advisor brings
great strength to Foresight's work on Web Enhancement and Social
Software. Doug is a polymath who pioneered the key technologies
of today's interactive, networked computer systems, aiming to
augment our ability to manage a complex world. Also, there isn't
a nicer guy on the planetworking with Doug is a joy,"
said Eric Drexler, Chairman of Foresight Institute.
After finding frustration at the goal-less nature of his early
work at the predecessor agency to NASA, Engelbart decided to turn
his career to producing the best contributions he could for
mankind. It seemed to him that the world was growing more
complex, and that there would be a growing need and ungency to
understand complexity. He focused upon making computers work
better for people (at a time when the standard "user
interface" was a punched card reader). Even in the foremost
think tank of that era, Stanford Research Institute, his ideas
were viewed as too visionary. When SRI ran out of funding for his
work, he moved on to Tymshare, where he developed many of the
components that characterize modern computing.
Since then, he has been developing, refining and implementing
his Bootstrap concept to allow institutions to deal with
complexity. He founded and leads the Bootstrap Institute, which
offers collaborative programs and seminars by Engelbart and his
staff, aimed at developing high-performance organizations, teams,
and individuals. The programs explore strategy, technologies, and
processes of future work environments, including Collaboration,
Knowledge Management, Virtual Teaming, and Continuous Improvement
Advisors bring a wide variety of expertise in science,
technology, journalism, and business to the organization. Through
the Advisor network, Foresight reaches out to academia, industry,
government, and media leaders to bring accurate information about
nanotechnology to their attention, resulting in improved
decision-making on coming technologies and their expected impact
As a new Foresight Advisor, Engelbart joins such other
broad-range thinkers as Stewart Brand, creator of The Whole Earth
Catalog and The Well on the Internet (and now with Global
Business Network); James Dinkelacker of Netscape Communications
Corp., Professor Arthur Kantrowitz of Dartmouth College,
Professor Marvin Minsky of MIT, and futurist Peter Schwartz of
Global Business Network.
Conference Available on Videotape
made at the Fifth
Foresight Conference on Nanotechnology are available on
With the exception of a few speakers who haven't signed
releases because of intellectual property considerations, all
presentations are available from Sound Photosynthesis. The
company can be reached at 415-332-1533 or by fax at 415-332-1522
for a complete list of tapes and pricing information. This is a
small company, so their response may be delayed by a crush of
orders from Conference attendees. The company videotaped the 1995
conference as well as the recent one, so be sure to specify in
your order which tapes you wish.
Coverage of molecular nanotechnology moved into major general
circulation media with a long article in the November 17 Los
Angeles Times. David Pescovitz, a writer for Wired
magazine who attended the conference, contributed a 1,500 word
report on an interview with Nobel Laureate Richard Smalley,
following his keynote speech at Foresight's recently concluded Foresight Conference on
Molecular Nanotechnology. "By far the most intriguing
thing these days for me is to make electronic circuits with
molecular perfection, Smalley is quoted as saying. "It's the
ultimate level of shrinkage, from microelectronics to molecular
electronics. You can't get any smaller than that"
Asked how rapidly he expected molecular nanotechnology to be
realized, Smalley replied, "There's no sensible way of
telling right now. It sometimes helps to visualize success, and
to a great extent that's what the community at this conference
does. These people call for much bolder dreams to be in the
brains of chemistswhose job in life it is to stick atoms
together and make moleculesthan traditionally those
chemists would have.
"Chemists have initially thought of this field as a
lunatic fringe, but now, particularly the young chemists, the
graduate students and some of the younger assistant professors
are saying: 'OK, I know these guys don't know how to build these
things, but my job is to build molecules. Can we build it?' It
seems that we are very far away from great examples. But it's
characteristic of this field that that will seem to be true until
some morning you wake up and there it is in the newspaper,"
Smalley told the newspaper.
Smalley also was quoted extensively about the barriers he sees
to developing molecular assembler devices: "The two problems
I often talk about are fat fingers and sticky fingers. If your
dream is to have a little robot that picks up atoms and sticks
them in particular patterns, you have to have fingers that are
smaller than the bricks you're putting in. And you have to be
able to let go. Since the fingers have to be made out of atoms
themselves, they're not small enough and they're sticky. I don't
know if this community (i.e. the Conference attendees) fully
appreciates the magnitude of that problem."
Smalley spoke enthusiastically about the ability of
nanotechnology to replace scarcity with abundance, even though he
doubts a general purpose assembler can be achieved.
"Nanotechnology will happen, though. This business of
building stuff that does stuff on a nanometer scale is the game.
This is the ultimate level of finesse of manipulating atoms in
our universe," he said.
The San Jose Mercury News, which
covers Silicon Valley more thoroughly than any other mass media
publication, also carried a major story on nanotechnology
following the Conference. Staff writer Janet Rae-Dupree covered
the current state of nanotechnology research thoughtfully and
with balance in her 1,700 word story.
"By fiddling with atoms and moleculesthe basic
building blocks of all matter in the universescientists
hope to open doors to a new world of ultra-strong materials,
machines no bigger than a few atoms and self-assembling systems
capable of linking molecular arms to create everything from
dust-sized computers to spacecraft that weigh no more than the
family car," she wrote. "Eventually, nanotechnology
could result in molecular robots that could be injected into a
human body and programmed to seek out and destroy specific cancer
cells, blast through plaque in arteries or attack invading
viruses or bacteria."
"The proper unit of measure for 'when' is decades: Maybe
half of one, maybe two or three. If we really run into trouble
then 10 or 12," Conference cochair Al Globus is quoted as
saying. "The number of decades is strongly a function of the
amount of work we put into this."
The story reports in depth on the extensive work discussed at
the Conference regarding research and computer modeling with
nanotubes. It quotes New York University chemist Nadrian Seeman
on the possibilities of using DNA to create scaffolding for
molecular assembly, and discusses the possible "dark
side" of nanotechnology (misuse and abuse), quoting Zyvex
chairman Jim Von Ehr and Foresight Executive Director Chris
Peterson. In all, the story is one of the most thorough yet
published in general circulation media on molecular
Comment: one measure of the rapid growth in
nanotechnology research is the breadth and depth of speakers at
the recent Conference. Another is the rapid expansion in the
number of researchers who are being quoted in news stories about
molecular nanotechnology. At the same time, we're less and less
frequently seeing reporters create a confused muddle by mixing
the concepts of molecular nanotechnology and "top down"
Newsweek Magazine has launched a
new quarterly series of special issues devoted to the millennium.
One major topic in the first issue: "Get Ready for
Nanotechnology." This two-page article by reporters Adam
Rogers and David A. Kaplan led with a description of an assembler
device that turns organic feedstock into steak, as an
introduction to the concept of re-arranging molecules. "When
you start thinking what you can do if you could really position
atoms wherever you dream of them, it looks like a wonderful
future," the story quotes Rick Smalley of Rice University as
After a side trip to discuss the nearer-term possibilities of
MEMSmicro-electrical-mechanical systems (see Update
29)Newsweek's story returns to
molecular nanotechnology, referring first to Richard Feynman's "Plenty
of Room at the Bottom" speech in 1959, and then to Eric
Drexler's initial academic
publication on the subject in 1981.
The story quotes Foresight Institute Executive Director Chris
Peterson saying, "If molecular machines already exist
naturally, like the ones inside a cell, it's not an unreasonable
goal to set ourselves to build similar systems."
But the nerves of Newsweek's reporters failed
them as they envisioned the future. After reviewing recent
experimental advances, including the nanoscale abacus
developed at IBM Zurich, they question whether molecular
nanotechnology can ever be achieved, quoting Smalley's
"[concern] that a universal assembler is flat-out
impossible." The story concludes, "nanotech may lie
forever beyond the grasp of scientists who would usurp
Comment: It is unclear, both in the Newsweek
article and more generally, what Smalley means by "universal
assembler." We shouldn't expect Newsweek to
properly interpret this debate, still in progress, on a highly
technical but relatively minor point ("universal" vs
"non-universal"). Indeed, neither Foresight Institute
nor most researchers in the field even use the term
Enhancement Project, which debuted
the crit.org Web site during the Conference, also attracted
media attention. TBTF,
a Web-based technology journal, reported on crit.org in an
article entitled, "Talking
back to Web sites."
"This technology demonstration made my jaw drop,"
wrote TBTF reporter Sami Menefee. "Just as we were getting
used to the personal publishing empowerment that the Web enables,
here come a few smart people to turn the medium inside out,
"The Backlink Mediator might be important on the public
Internetif it catches on, if it becomes standard, if a
sufficient infrastructure of annotation processors develops. It
could also hasten the arrival on the Web of the "tragedy of
the commons," which many of us will assert has already
arrived at Usenet and is fast overtaking e-mail. It is in the
context of corporate intranets that standardized, proxy-based
annotation of Web pages could be a clear winner," she
If the Backlink Mediator catches on, one area of immediate
impact is likely to be in the publication of refereed academic
journals. Even without backlinking features, the Web is causing
consternation in academic circles. The October 27, 1997, issue of
The Scientist, a newspaper for life
sciences professionals, carried a long front-page story
discussing the "Dilemmas of Electronic Posting of
Dissertations." Triggering debate reported upon in the
article is a year-old policy at Virginia Tech requiring graduate
students to submit their master's degree theses or doctoral
dissertations formatted in HTML for publication on the World Wide
Arguing basically that open electronic access is the wave of
the future, supporters of the policy in academia point to the
more rapid dissemination of knowledge, easier access to
information in an electronic library, and the chance for
universities to unlock the potential of their intellectual
property. Opponents argue that mandated electronic publication
could prejudice graduate students' chances of appearing in
scholarly journals, some of which already are refusing to accept
articles that have been posted pre-publication on the Web. Others
worry that the process will make plagiarism easier.
Comment: not discussed in the article, but
very much hovering in the background, are serious moves within
the academic community, led by leading research universities, to
create new mechanisms that would simply replace paper journals
with on-line publication, at much lower cost. The Backlink
Mediator could well accelerate that process.
of Toronto Opens New Nanotechnology Center
The University of Toronto has announced the creation of the Energenius Centre
for Advanced Technology. It is dedicated to advancing
research and training students in the area of semiconductor
nanotechnology for future device development. The center brings
together workers in the disiplines of material science, physics,
and electrical engineering. Currently it is working on joint
projects with the National Research Council of Canada, the
Cornell Nanofabrication Centre, and the University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill's Nanomanipulator Project., it said.
Professor Harry E. Ruda of the Electronic Materials Group
within the University's Metallurgical Engineering Department was
named inaugural chair and director of the Centre.
The new Centre received funding from Energenius, which also
will endow a new "Energenius Chair in Advanced
Nanotechnology" at the University. Professor Alexander Shik
was named to the Inaugural Energenius Sabbatical Chair.
Books Available from Foresight
Foresight Institute stocks for sale most of the significant
books discussing nanotechnology and its potential impacts. These
- Nanosystems: Molecular Machinery, Manufacturing and
Computation, by K. Eric Drexler (1992, Wiley
- Nanotechnology: Research and Perspectives, edited
by BC Crandall and James Lewis (1992, MIT Press,
the Future: The Nanotechnology Revolution,
by K. Eric Drexler, Chris Peterson & Gayle Pergamit
(1991, Morrow, paperback) $9.95.
- Engines of Creation:
The Coming Era in Nanotechnology, by K.
Eric Drexler (1986, Doubleday, paperback) $10.95.
- Nanotechnology Playhouse, by Christopher Lampton
(1993, Waite, softcover) $14.95.
- Prospects in Nanotechnology: Toward Molecular
Manufacturing, edited by Markus Krummenacker and
James Lewis (1995, Wiley, hardbound), $49.95.
Shipping and handling, and California sales tax for CA
residents, need to be added. For more information, or to order,
contact Foresight Institute at 650-917-1122, email
inform@foresight. org, or download the order form.
The Senior Associates Program has been established to provide
steady support for the research projects of the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing,
and for the education and communication projects of the Foresight
Institute, enabling long-term planning and commitments, and
providing seed money for new efforts.
The Senior Associates
Program supports vital research and education in molecular
nanotechnology. It enables individuals to play a key role in
advancing this technology and its responsible use through their
individual or corporate contributions.
By pledging an annual contribution of $250 to $5,000 a year
for five years, Senior Associates join those most committed to
making a difference in nanotechnology. Benefits of becoming a
Senior Associate include special publications, online
interaction, and special meetings. Senior Associates will also
beta-test Foresight's Web
Enhancement debate software.
Foresight Institute and Institute for Molecular Manufacturing
are nonprofit foundations; donations are tax-deductible in the
U.S. to the full extent permitted by law. Donations can be made
by check from a U.S. bank, postal money order, VISA, or
Mastercard. Credit card donations may be sent by fax.
To contribute, obtain a donation form on the Foresight
Institute [here, or here
for secure online donation] or Institute for Molecular
Web sites, call 650-917-1122, fax 650-917-1123, or email
Major thanks this issue go to two groups:
- '97 Conference: planner Marcia Seidler; chairmen Ralph
Merkle and Al Globus; tutorial chair Deepak Srivastava;
staff Judy Hill (ret.), Tanya Jones, Jim Lewis, Judy
Muhlestein, Lew Phelps, Elaine Tschorn, Philippe Van
Nedervelde, Lauren Williams; and volunteers Robert Armas,
Emanuel Barros, Jeff Birac, Mark Birac, Sheryl Corchnoy,
Stephanie Corchnoy, Chip Morningstar, Norma Peterson,
Mike Pique, Jason T Roeder, Max Simms, Jeff Soreff,
Wenonah Vercoutere; A/V Xenon and Sound Photosynthesis.
- Web Enhancement Project (CritSuite): programming Ka-Ping
Yee, Terry Stanley, Peter McCluskey; co-architecting Mark
S. Miller; tech advice Norm Hardy, Jonathan Shapiro, Marc
Stiegler, Dean Tribble; staff Tanya Jones; early sysadmin
Russell Whitaker; proxy concept Wayne Gramlich; conf demo
MC Ed Niehaus, server co-location donors Nanospace;
development model advice Sameer Parekh; inspiration Ted
Nelson, Doug Engelbart.
For adding a search capability
to our web sites, thanks go to Peter McCluskey. Those of you who
visit www.foresight.org will notice many other improvements;
these will be discussed in future Updates.
For ongoing development of our soon-to-come online database,
thanks go to Carol Shaw (who, years ago, computerized our
accounting as well).
For sending information, thanks to Jon Alexandr, Barry
Cammarata, Frank Glover, Martin Haeberli, G.A. Houston, Joe
Hovey, Joy Martin, Stuart Scott, and Bruce Smith.
Chris Peterson Executive Director, Foresight
Molecular Electronics: Science and Technology,
Dec. 14-18, Puerto Rico. Molecular wires, switches, devices;
self-assembly; SPM manipulation. Engineering Foundation, tel
212-705-7836, fax 212-705-7441, email firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.engfnd.org and http://www.engfnd.org/8ap.html
Device Applications of Nanoscale Materials Symposium,
March 29-April 3, 1998, Dallas, Texas, at the 1998 National
Meeting of the American Chemical Society. "The two main
purposes of this symposium are (1) to demonstrate current,
innovative applications of chemistry in the nanometer size regime
for use in device electronics and optoelectronics and (2) to
identify potential areas for partnerships between industry and
academia where research in nanoscale chemistry can be applied to
emerging technologies." Invited speakers who were also
speaking at the November, 1997 Foresight Conference include James
R. Von Ehr II, James M. Tour, and Jie Han. For more information
or abstract form, contact Dr. Sean C. O'Brien, c/o John St. John,
Box 298860 TCU Chemistry Department, Fort Worth, Texas 76129, tel
(817) 921-7195, email email@example.com
4th Int'l Conference on Nanostructured Materials,
June 14-18, 1998, Stockholm. http://www.kth.se/conferences/nano98/
Superlattices, Microstructures, and Microdevices,
July 27-Aug 1, 1998, Egypt. Includes nanostructures, nanotubes,
self-assembly. Contact Khalid Ismail, IBM Watson, Rt 134,
Yorktown Hts, NY 10598.
Fifth Int'l Conference on Nanometer-scale Science and
Technology, Aug 31-Sept 4, 1998, Birmingham, UK. Contact
Institute of Physics, tel +44-171 470 4800, fax +44-171-470-4900,
email firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.vacuum.org/iuvsta/
2nd Intl. Conference on Evolvable Systems: From
Biology to Hardware, Sept. 24-26, 1998. Lausanne,
Switzerland. Self-replicating hardware, self-repairing hardware,
applications of nanotechnology. Email Moshe.Sipper@di.epfl.ch,
Sixth Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology,
Nov. 12-15, 1998, Santa Clara, CA. Enabling science and
technology, computational models. Contact Foresight, tel
650-917-1122, fax 650-917-1123, email email@example.com, http://www.foresight.org/Conferences/MNT6/index.html
Molecular Modelling in THE LARGE: bridging scales in
space, time, and complexity. 1998 International Meeting
Molecular Graphics and Modeling Society, Dec. 6-10, 1998. San
Diego Princess Resort, Mission Bay, San Diego, California. A
meeting catalysing discussion and collaboration on complex
molecular systems by bringing together computational and
experimental scientists working across spatial and temporal
resolutions. A forum for the latest results and methods in
visualizing, analyzing and designing systems from pharmaceuticals
to materials science, from bioengineering to nanotechnology.
Contact: Peggy Graber; (619) 784 2526; firstname.lastname@example.org
First ELBA-Foresight Conference on Molecular
Nanotechnology, spring 1999, Rome. Contact EL.B.A.
Foundation, tel +39-6-35420728, fax +39-6-35451637, email email@example.com.
From Foresight Update 31, originally
published 15 December 1997.