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Foresight Publishes Guidelines for Development of Nanotechnology

Palo Alto, California -- June 14, 2000 -- Foresight Institute today announced publication of the first public version of the "Foresight Guidelines on Molecular Nanotechnology" to assure that research in this rapidly emerging field proceeds safely and responsibly. Based on the report of a February 1999 workshop in Monterey, Calif., sponsored jointly by the Foresight Institute and the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing, publication of the Foresight Guidelines begins an open discussion about the appropriate framework within which to develop nanotechnology. Nanotechnology is predicted to become the basis for remarkably powerful and inexpensive computers, fundamentally new medical technologies that could save millions of lives, and new zero-pollution manufacturing methods that could create greater material abundance for all. Abuse of the technology could also cause considerable damage.

"The Foresight Guidelines are a safety framework within which nanotechnology can emerge in the coming decades with minimum risk and maximum benefit," said Ralph Merkle, Principal Fellow at Zyvex and member of Foresight's Board of Advisors. "Developing nanotechnology within a context of public oversight and discussion in democratic countries is the safest approach. To do this we must continue a vigorous program of research and development. This is essential for an informed public discussion, as well as to pre-empt secret development by undemocratic regimes."

Neil Jacobstein, Chairman of the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing and Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute said: "The Foresight Guidelines are an important step in the direction of technologists exercising social responsibility long in advance of deploying molecular nanotechnology. We included a brief review of the issues, as well as development principles and some initial guidelines for device design. The Guidelines represent the beginning of a technology policy dialog, which will succeed over time if researchers, policy experts, and the public work together to understand the specific types of nanotechnology, and their associated benefits and risks. We intend to evolve the Foresight Guidelines into a viable strategy for responsible nanotechnology development."

Jim Von Ehr, President and CEO of Zyvex, said: "This is an important document that deserves careful reading by all concerned. As one of the first nanotechnology companies, Zyvex fully supports the Guidelines and is pleased that two of our senior scientists were able to participate in their preparation. I expect that a sense of professional ethics will compel nanotechnology developers to individually subscribe to these principles. These Guidelines are so important that grant-making agencies, even military ones, should require a pledge of adherence as a precondition of funding advanced nanotechnology development."

The basis of the Foresight Guidelines began in analysis and discussions dating back to the late 1970's, when K. Eric Drexler first realized the profound impact that these future technologies could have on the human condition. The full development of nanotechnology is still decades away, providing time for open discussion about what additional guidelines and enforcement mechanisms are appropriate.

Christine Peterson, President of the Foresight Institute, said: "The Internet has changed the world, economically and politically, but compared to what's coming, we ain't seen nothin' yet. The future will be so different from human history that we can barely imagine it -- yet we need to if we're going to make reasonable decisions."

The Institute for Molecular Manufacturing (IMM), www.imm.org, is a Palo Alto based nonprofit foundation formed in 1991 to carry out research aimed at developing molecular nanotechnology. IMM sponsored the writing of the first technical book on nanotechnology, Nanosystems: Molecular Machinery, Manufacturing, and Computation (Wiley Interscience, 1992), and the first technical book on medical nanotechnology, Nanomedicine (Landes Bioscience, 1999). It also supports the development of the Foresight Guidelines, and other ongoing nanotechnology research.

The Foresight Institute, www.foresight.org, is a Palo Alto based nonprofit educational organization founded in 1986 in response to the book, Engines of Creation, in which Drexler said "the approaching breakthroughs [in nanotechnology] will become steadily more obvious. They will eventually seize public attention. Our chances will be better if, when that time comes, a sound set of ideas has been hammered out and has begun to spread..." The organization's series of Foresight Conferences on Molecular Nanotechnology is the oldest and most widely respected in its field. The Foresight Update is a newsletter on technical, social and other developments in nanotechnology. Foresight sponsors the prestigious annual Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology, named after the Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman. The Foresight Guidelines are available on the web at: http://www.foresight.org/guidelines/.

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