Foresight Update 5
A publication of the Foresight Institute
Books are listed in order of increasing specialization and
level of reading challenge. Your suggestions are welcome. And
remember, if a book's price looks too high, your library should
be able to get it though interlibrary loans.--Editor
Signal: Communication Tools for the Information Age,
ed. Kevin Kelly, Harmony Books, 1988, paperback, $16.95. A Whole
Earth Catalog focusing on high tech subjects, mixes serious items
(e.g., FI) with lighter ones. Foreword by FI advisor
Filters Against Folly, by Garrett Hardin,
Penguin Books, 1985, paperback, $7.95. A respected
environmentalist looks at the relationship between ecology and
economics over time, pointing out the problems of
"commonization" and the error of thinking every
worldwide problem is "global." A systems approach to a
difficult problem; highly recommended. One jarring note: Hardin's
seeming belief that economics is a zero-sum game.
Molecules, by P.W. Atkins, Scientific
American Library Series #21 (distributed by W.H. Freeman), 1987,
hardcover, $32.95. Lavishly illustrated and elegantly written in
nontechnical language, it makes the molecular world
understandable. Requires no prior knowledge of chemistry.
Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, ed.
Irene Greif, Morgan Kaufman, 1988, hardcover, $36.95. A
collection of papers on groupware and hypertext. Includes classic
visionary papers by Vannevar Bush and Douglas Engelbart,
interesting work by Thomas Malone, Robert Johansen, Xerox PARC,
Text, Context, and Hypertext, ed. Edward
Barrett, MIT Press, 1988, hardcover, $35. Diverse set of papers
on how computers and hypertext have changed the way people write
using computers. Strong emphasis on computer documentation.
Quality is uneven, with some overlap, but includes some
The Ecology of Computation, ed. Bernardo
Huberman, Elsevier Science Publishers, 1988, paperback, $39.50.
Now available in a somewhat more affordable edition. Open-systems
perspective on advanced computing. Includes a set of three papers
on agoric market-based computation. For the computer literate.
Proteins: Structures and Molecular Properties,
by Thomas E. Creighton, W.H. Freeman, 1984, hardcover, $37.95.
Invaluable reference for protein designers and nanotechnologists
thinking about molecular self-assembly.
Quanta, by P.W. Atkins, Clarendon, 1974
(reprint 1985), paperback, $29.95. Qualitative explanations of
quantum theory concepts with a bare minimum of mathematics, in
dictionary format. A reference rather than a beginner's text.
Since last issue we've received news of a Hypermedia Design
Workshop held last October. Organized by Jan Walker of DEC and
John Leggett of Texas A&M--and funded by DEC--it was the
first of two invited hypermedia meetings. The goal of the first
was to bring together representatives of as many of the major
hypertext media systems as possible, have them compare designs,
and design a hypermedia storage substrate that would support the
various systems. The second meeting is planned for Texas in early
1989 and will look at user interface issues and standards.
The following are the participants, their organizations, and the
systems they've worked on: Rob Akscyn (Knowledge Systems: KMS),
Doug Engelbart (McDonnell-Douglas: NLS, Augment), Steve Feiner
(Columbia: FRESS, Interactive Graphical Documents), Frank Halasz
(leader of a new hypertext team at MCC; also Xerox's NoteCards),
John Leggett (Texas A&M: teaches graduate course on
hypertext), Don McCracken (Knowledge Systems: ZOG, KMS), Norm
Meyrowitz (Brown: Intermedia), Tim Oren (Apple: HyperCard), Amy
Pearl (Sun: Sun Link Service), Mayer Schwartz (Tektronix:
Neptune/HAM), Randy Trigg (Xerox PARC: TEXTNET, NoteCards), Jan
Walker (DEC: Concordia, Symbolics Document Examiner), Bill
Weiland (U of Maryland: Hyperties).
The only (known) major hypermedia systems not represented were
Xanadu and Guide. Marc Stiegler, Xanadu's Director of Product
Development, reports that all team members were "locked in
their offices, creating software" and therefore unable to
The Foresight Institute receives hundreds of letters
requesting information and sending ideas. Herewith some excerpts:
I am enclosing an article, "Microscopic Motor is a First
Step," by Robert Pool, published in the Oct. 21 Science.
The article discusses recent developments in micron-scale
mechanics. I have seen similar discussions elsewhere.
A problem in this and other stories on micromachines is that they
often confuse information about nanomachines with information
about micromachines. Expecting micromachinery (which is
developing sooner) to accomplish the tasks of nanomachinery could
disillusion proponents of micromachinery, and mistakenly
discredit claims for nanomachinery. The practical distinction
between these two technologies needs to be clarified.
Garden Grove, CA
I agree that progress toward nanotechnology can't be prevented
by any sort of organized suppression. If any one group, country,
or group of countries tries, someone else will make breakthroughs
eventually. And I believe that once it's developed, any attempt
to make the technology proprietary will be short-lived. The
secrets of nanotechnology will be simply too important to not
have attempts made at espionage, midnight computer hacking, and
"The Problem of Nonsense in Nanotechnology" points out
the problems of spreading misconceptions about nanotechnology and
their interference with foresight. If nanotechnology has the
capacity to utterly change society for better or worse, then the
general public needs to get prepared. But I don't think people
will be as interested in the details of the technology as much as
the kinds of change that will be brought about. Engines of Creation
points out a future, perhaps as close as the first half of the
21st century, with fantastic possibilities. To spark curiosity
and interest it's necessary to discuss things like remaking the
physical shape of humanity. But dwelling on the fantastic would
be an open invitation to bogosity. To make best use of the next
few decades, the public needs to focus on issues such as
population control, active shields, environmental renewal, and
Currently I am a student at USC, interested in pursuing a
career in the field of nanotechnology...How should I structure my
curriculum in order to pursue this goal? It seems that this field
is interdisciplinary in nature, consisting of physics, electrical
engineering, molecular biology, and chemistry. Is there a common
Manhattan Beach, CA
Students and others interested should request a free copy of
FI's Briefing #1, "Studying Nanotechnology." Send a
stamped, self-addressed envelope.
Stuart R. Hameroff's Ultimate Computing: Biomolecular
Consciousness and NanoTechnology (Elsevier, 1987, $78), is
an uncritical mix of fact, fancy, and fallacy. Hameroff says
"...this book flings metaphors at the truth. Perhaps one or
more will land on target..." Perhaps--but the reader must
sort the hits from the misses. One miss is his central premise,
that "...the cytoskeleton is the cell's nervous
system, the biological controller/computer. In the brain
this implies that the basic levels of cognition are within
nerve cells, that cytoskeletal filaments are the roots of
consciousness." (Emphasis in original.) Unfortunately, there
is every reason to believe this is completely wrong. This casts
something of a pall over the book.
Hameroff's chapter on nanotechnology is better than his average,
although it adopts the curious perspective that nanotechnology
really began with Schneiker in 1986, with Drexler mentioned only
in passing. (Readers can check Drexler's 1981 PNAS
paper and decide for themselves.) This is explained by the
acknowledgements which say that "Conrad Schneiker
[Hameroff's research assistant] supplied most of the material on
nanotechnology and replicators for Chapter 10..."
Hameroff covers a lot of ground. He has chapters on the
philosophy of the mind, the origin of life, the cytoskeleton,
protein dynamics, anesthesia (a good chapter--Hameroff is an
anesthesiologist), viruses, and nanotechnology. He gives his own
qualifications in a dozen fields as "...an expert in none,
but a dabbler in all..." He's mostly right. There are better
books written by more qualified people--the reader is advised to
select from among them.
Dr. Merkle's interests range from neurophysiology to computer
security; he also lectures on nanotechnology.
Nanotechnology media interest continues to increase. Since
last issue we've seen articles in these major publications: IBM
Research Magazine (Fall 1988), Fortune (Dec.
5), OMNI (Jan. 89), and Interview (Jan.
89). Prospects are good for a Nova-style British
documentary on nanotechnology.
January and February saw a number of nanotechnology-related
events: MIT's annual symposium (see report elsewhere in this issue),
a lecture at Bell Communications Research--a spinoff of Bell
Labs--on Jan. 13, major coverage of protein folding and design at
the AAAS meeting in San Francisco, a lecture at Silicon Valley's
Software Entrepreneurs Forum on Feb. 17, a nanotechnology Physics
Colloquium at the University of Seattle [see
correction], and Nanocon, a
regional meeting sponsored by the Seattle Nanotechnology Study
Group. The last three have yet to occur as we finish this issue,
so will be reported on next time.
In addition to the items listed in the "Upcoming Events"
column, both Hewlett-Packard and Union Carbide are planning
meetings to discuss nanotechnology.
A Foresight Institute Briefing paper is available for students
and others who want to learn the basics underlying
nanotechnology. Send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to FI and
ask for Briefing #1, "Studying Nanotechnology."
A team of graduate students and faculty at the Lyndon B.
Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at
Austin has been asked to conduct a study of the political and
economic ramifications of nanotechnology. Headed by Dr. Susan
Hadden, this research project is in the format of a two-term
course. The fall 1988 term started off with an introductory
lecture by Eric Drexler; the students went on to study the
technology itself and the effects of other formerly new
technologies such as biotechnology. This spring they will attempt
to predict the kinds of social, economic, and political changes
inherent in widespread adoption of nanotechnology, and will
review various policy responses and their possible effects.
The effort is funded by Futuretrends, a nonprofit educational
group. Roger Duncan, president of Futuretrends and longtime
Foresight supporter, initiated the project, which is expected to
release its report in mid-summer 1989. [see
& Microengineering Progress
Newsletter review by Chris Peterson
This quarterly newsletter covers a wide range of topics,
arranged under five headings:
- Microchips--semiconductor technology
- Micromachines--miniature and micromachines
- Molecular Engineering--genetic engineering and
- Sensors--a subset of micromachines
- Microstructures and Micromechanics--includes new
materials, computer advances, brain theory, math, and
semiconductor fabrication, as well as microstructures and
The items consist of abstracts describing research news,
technical papers, company announcements, and patents. Company
profiles and brief market analysis comments also appear. The
publication's commercial slant will be useful for investors.
The enabling technologies leading toward nanotechnology--protein
and other polymer design, supramolecular (and biomimetic)
chemistry, and STM/AFM based micromanipulation--were not covered
in the premiere issue we saw, so the publication's name seems a
bit of a misnomer. However, this has the advantage for potential
subscribers that N&MP should have little if any
overlap with Update.
The newsletter does a good job at summarizing progress in various
micron-scale technologies. For the technically literate reader
who wants to keep up with these, for business or other reasons,
this publication could easily be worth the subscription price.
N&MP is available from STICS, Inc., 9714 South
Rice Ave., Houston, TX 77096, (713) 723-3949. It is edited by
Donald Saxman and costs $200 per year, with a 25% discount for
libraries, universities, and medical schools, and an extra $20
charge for overseas airmail. A sample copy of the first issue
There is a nanotechnology Netnews group, sci.nanotech, on the
USENET system. The USENET newsgroups form a large, distributed,
hierarchical electronic bulletin board; formerly available only
to those with UNIX machines, it is now accessible to anyone
through services such as the WELL at 415-332-6106 (data),
415-332-4335 (voice) and the Portal at 408-725-0561 (data),
In cooperation with FI, sci.nanotech
carries most FI publications. The moderator is Josh Hall
(firstname.lastname@example.org or rutgers!klaatu.rutgers.edu!josh), who
can answer specific questions about the group by electronic mail.
[Note: JoSH's current email address
is email@example.com. He maintains an archive of nanotechnology
papers and related material at http://nanotech.rutgers.edu/nanotech/
From Foresight Update 5, originally
published 1 March 1989.
Foresight thanks Dave Kilbridge for converting Update 5 to
html for this web page.