Spring 2004 Gathering

2004 Foresight Vision Weekend
Special Interest Groups (SIGs) and Breakouts

How to organize a new SIG or breakout

Topics as of May 5:

"Human Enhancement" (Wrye Sententia and Ramez Naan)

This breakout will review recent scientific progress in enhancement, including the most recent successes in human and animal life extension, physical enhancement, mental enhancement, brain computer interfaces, etc. Format is presentation followed by group discussion. Wrye SententiaRamez Naam

Optional Read-Ahead Materials:

Views on and from the President's Council on Bioethics:

Other Reflections on The Ethics of Human Enhancement:

Cognitive Enhancement:

Genetic Engineering:

"Will the Nanotechnology Industry Prosper Like the Silicon/Software Industry?" (Ted Sabety)

Ted SabetyThe purpose of this SIG is to consider this question: does Nanotechnology enjoy a similar situation to the political, economic and legal environment that silicon technology did that fostered such a revolutionary result in so short a time? Is the current and future environment sufficient? Is it better? If not, what should we do? Historical statistics and other data shall be presented to provide a factual context to the discussion.

Consider how much Federal tax revenue in the 1960's funded things like advanced computer science, communications, space flight and electronics. In addition, monopolies (and quasi-monopolies) like AT&T and IBM had huge research budgets funding revolutionary creations. Yet the anti-trust legal environment forced AT&T and IBM to widely cross license their intellectual property: the most famous case of which is Bell Laboratories licensing Sony to make transistor radios. And the military, through DARPA, funded creation of the ARPAnet and TCP/IP to address defensive command and control issues during a nuclear war, but it was commercialized in 1993 as the Internet.

So how does our current and future political, economic and legal climate for Nanotechnology compare? Are too many of the seminal advancements in Nanotechnology held by a few large corporations? Will the government or courts require that these seminal technologies be licensed? Will the thirst for economic return entice investors of early stage start-ups to seek acquisition by large corporations, thus increasing concentration? Will blocking patents foster cross-licensing or will such a process take too long to work out? What will the effect of publicly funded Nanotechnology on the business environment be?

In sum, what kind of legal, policy and business context should we be promoting in tandem with the technology itself in order to foster investment, provide a return, and create a growing nanotechnology business eco-system as rich as that for silicon and software?

Josh Hall"Molecular Dynamic Simulation of Nanomechanical Devices" (Josh Hall)

Josh will discuss his recent work in making dynamic simulations of the molecular planetary gear and show the resulting movies. To read about this work in advance and see the simulations on your own machine, see

Philippe Van Nedervelde"Accelerating Change & the Nano/Bio/Info/Cogno Convergence" (Philippe Van Nedervelde)

Philippe will lead a group discussion on these topics. To prepare, see these webpages:

Steve Omohundro"Artificial Intelligence through Self-Modification" (Steve Omohundro)

We are very close to building systems that are self-aware, can learn from their experiences, and can modify and improve every aspect of their behavior. This session will be a free-ranging discussion of the issues regarding this kind of system and applications to molecular nanotechnology.

Some questions to be considered are:

  1. Can we build small "Seed" programs which grow into fully intelligent systems by learning? How small can such a seed be? What essential knowledge must be encoded in a seed? Is there a form of universality in which all sufficiently powerful seeds grow into systems with the same level of intelligence on given hardware? What are good sequences of learning tasks to give systems to foster intelligence? How long should it take?
  2. Some AI tasks can be precisely specified like programming computers, proving theorems, and optimizing engineering designs. Others are less precisely specifiable like understanding human language, recognizing images, maneuvering robots through natural environments. Are these classes truly different in kind? Should we build systems dealing with the first class of problems first and then apply them to the task of building systems for the second class?
  3. What are the highest leverage applications of AI to the development of molecular nanotechnology? Automating molecular design? Improving the accuracy or speed of quantum, chemical, or mechanical simulations of nanosystems? Encoding knowledge about chemistry, automated reaction design? What are the consequenences for nanotechnology of having intelligent nanobots which can redesign all aspects of themselves?
  4. Is it possible to put a priori limits on the behavior of systems which can modify and re-program themselves? Should there be an inviolable core that a system cannot modify? If so, what should be in that core? In an analgous way, humans will soon be able to choose the DNA of their offspring if not themselves. What are they likely to do with that capability? Universal problem solvers seem fairly harmless, at what point are there dangers we should watch out for? What morality can and should be built into such systems?

Eliezer Yudkowsky"Dangers of Supercomputing" (Eliezer Yudkowsky)

This Work Group will examine risks associated with sudden vast jumps in computing power. Dangers might include brute-forcing of Artificial Intelligence, or leakage of nanotechnological capabilities, but there may be other technological capabilities or possibilities resulting from increased computing power. As a Work Group product, we'll produce a list of potential dangers and some suggestions for controlling them.


Send in your topic ASAP, including preferred format.


1. Free-ranging discussions

Free-ranging discussions are always fun, enlightening and thought- provoking. These discussion groups are given brief "challenge material" to stimulate discussion, and things proceed organically from there. There may or may not be a tangible work product.

Any Vision Weekend attendee may propose a "free-ranging discussion" session. Some discussions will go onto the event program. The rest will be posted on a "rendezvous board" so interested parties can find one another. You need not propose your session in advance if you don't want it considered for the program.

2. Foresight Work Groups

These gather for the specific purpose of producing products, such as a short position paper or a tightly targeted research report. Each work group will have a fixed task to accomplish during the weekend and is expected to produce a work product.

Each work group will have a pre-specified leader; the leader must keep the group moving toward the pre-stated goal. Participants may be expected to have read certain documents, or to have certain background knowledge, before participating in a work group.

A work group may meet repeatedly during the Vision Weekend. However, there is no time commitment after the weekend is over. If you want to propose a work group, you need to supply a very specific mission statement which can be achieved within the available time. You will need to define how much time you think the group will need; we can accommodate needs up to about six hours.

Work groups need to be proposed in advance, and time is very short. Work group proposals must be received by April 30, 2004 submit to foresight@foresight.org.

3. SIG kickoffs

This is the formation of charter 'special interest groups', which may operate for months or years. The purpose of a kickoff meeting is to arrive at a charter for the SIG, to get commitment from SIG members, and to define the structure in which the SIG will do its work.

Leading a SIG kickoff doesn't require you to be the ongoing SIG leader over the long term — the leader of a SIG at the Vision Weekend only means keeping the kickoff session running smoothly.

Three critical SIG topics have been identified: Nanobusiness, NanoEducation, and Nanomedicine. We need a leader for the Nanomedicine groups.

Brian WangNanobusiness/Investing SIG (Brian Wang)

This group is focused on creating and facilitating the creation of long-term molecular nanotechnology investment funds. Also focused upon tracking, rating and communicating about investment opportunities, MNT-related businesses, and research that are leading or could lead to molecular nanotechnology.

Rosa WangNanoEducation SIG (Rosa Wang)

The initial focus of this SIG will be to develop curriculum materials related to molecular nanotechnology, including a policy case study and technical study guide materials to accompany the textbook Nanosystems. Later, this group will focus on increasing student and teacher awareness of MNT. It may create, communicate, and recommend an MNT curriculum, provide guidance and encourage students, provide assistance and support for educators who want to form school MNT study programs, and create a self-serve system online for volunteers in remote locations.

Russell WhitakerNanomedicine SIG (Russell Whitaker)

This group will promote the use of molecular nanotechnology to improve medicine. Those with medical disabilities or conditions or those with relatives with such conditions are especially encouraged to join and help lobby, investigate issues and hasten the development of nanomedicine.

Robert Freitas, author of Nanomedicine Volumes I and II, will participate in this session.

Free-ranging discussions and Work Groups are specifically formed at the Foresight Vision Weekend, but the SIGs will be ongoing. If you are interested in learning more, contact foresight@foresight.org.

If you want to lead a session, please contact foresight@foresight.org Time is short, so rapid response would be appreciated.

Spring 2004 Gathering