In 1986 Foresight was founded on a vision of the emerging field of nanotechnology in which current capabilities in nanotechnology lead eventually to fabrication of complex products with atom-by-atom control of the manufacturing process. This ultimate development of nanotechnology, sometimes termed molecular manufacturing, was first described by Richard Feynman in 1959 in a visionary talk "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom." Foresight has worked to educate the public, researchers, and policy makers about Feynman's vision—what advanced nanotechnology would be like, what it could do, how to move from current nanotechnoloogy to advanced nanotechnology, and how to capture the opportunities and avoid the risks of the ultimate manufacturing technology.
The word "nanotechnology" was first used to label Feynman's vision in a 1986 book Engines of Creation by K Eric Drexler, which popularized and expanded Feynman's vision and described the unprecedented opportunities and risks presented by such a technology. Foresight was the first organization to educate society about the benefits and risks of nanotechnology, but while Foresight was addressing the ultimate manufacturing technology of Feynman's vision, the word "nanotechnology" was also being used to describe current laboratory methods applied to more immediate and limited goals. To prepare society for nanotechnology, then a little known science and technology, required publications addressing both near-term nanotechnology and the vision for advanced nanotechnology, and clarifying the differences between the two.
Because nanotechnology is a multidisciplinary subject, few technical professionals were equipped to critically evaluate the topic as a whole. To bring together experts in the many relevant areas and encourage their interactions and mutual education, Foresight sponsored the first of many nanotechnology conferences in 1989. This was the first comprehensive conference on the topic of nanotechology, and drew participants from three continents and many disciplines.
Today, nanotechnology research is widespread, and scientific knowledge of the molecular world is advancing rapidly. A perspective on how the field has developed is provided by comments of former Foresight President J. Storrs Hall, Ph.D. on the occasion of a recent Conference held twenty years after the first conference.
Because the vision of advanced nanotechnology upon which Foresight was founded relied upon physics based modeling that pointed to capabilities far in advance of currently feasible laboratory techniques, some opinion in the nanotechnology research community was hostile to (or at least very skeptical of) the proposals for advanced nanotechnology. In an article available on his web site, From Feynman to Funding, K. Eric Drexler describes and analyzes the controversies that arose from differing views of nanotechnology. From its beginning Foresight has advocated both the development and application of current laboratory capabilities in nanoscale science and technology, and moving toward advanced nanotechnology and preparing society for its implications. Much of Foresight's efforts during the first twenty years of its existence was devoted to explaining and defending the proposal that molecular manufacturing is a feasible goal.
Foresight Institute awards and prizes recognize researchers, students, journalists, and governmental officials who make major contributions to the advancement and achievement of Feynman's vision of advanced nanotechnology, or molecular manufacturing.
Foresight Institute focuses its public policy activities on maximizing the benefits and minimizing the downsides of nanotechnology. Our policy efforts involve many policy areas: from setting an appropriate level of safety research funding, to exploring how to increase access to nanotechnologies; from helping promote specific technical breakthroughs, to reviewing how publicly funded nanotech patents can be better administered for greatest societal benefit.
We work closely with governments, multi-national organizations, NGOs (non-governmental organizations), environmental groups, the policy community, professional associations, and civic sector organizations to achieve our goal of broad based nanotechnology education and public policy improvement.
Foresight's focus on advancing beneficial nanotechnology includes both delivering the ultimate opportunities of advanced nanotechnology and harvesting the near-term benefits of incremental advances in current nanoscience and nanotechnology. Our efforts are turned to guiding nanotechnology research, public policy and education to address six major challenges that humanity faces.
How do we move from today's laboratory and industrial capabilities in nanotechnology to the type of atomically precise manufacturing, or molecular manufacturing, envisioned by Feynman and by Drexler? The Technology Roadmap for Productive Nanosystems, unveiled in 2007 by Foresight Institute and Battelle, charts a path beginning with current nanotechnology capabilities to advanced systems. The Roadmap is a first attempt to lay out a step-by-step course of development that must take place to move from one stage to another, with milestones for achieving each step.
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