Foresight Update 6

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A publication of the Foresight Institute

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Books of Note

Books are listed in order of 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 through interlibrary loans.--Editor

In Pursuit, by Charles Murray, Simon and Schuster, 1988, cloth, $19.95. Looks at the question of what constitutes human happiness, an increasingly important issue as our technological capabilities increase. Raises policy questions which are disturbing regardless of the reader's politics.

Technology and War, by Martin Van Creveld, Free Press (Macmillan), 1989, cloth, $22.95. Those who don't know history are apt to repeat more of its mistakes than is perhaps entirely necessary. This book is a historical analysis of the relationship between technology and warfare over the past 4000 years. It will give those concerned about military applications of technology a better basis for working on the problem. Nontechnical.

Principles of Colloid and Surface Chemistry, by Paul C. Hiemenz, Marcel Dekker, 2nd edition, 1986, cloth, $39.75. The properties of surfaces and particles of nanometer to micrometer scale (colloids) are critical to nanotechnology's enabling technologies, such as design of proteins and the self-assembling molecular systems. They will continue to be important to the understanding and design of advanced nanomechanisms. Highly technical.

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Media Coverage

Nanotechnology continues to receive considerable coverage in the media. Perhaps the most exciting media development since the last issue is the funding and taping of a one-hour British television documentary on nanotechnology. The work is being produced and directed by David Kennard and Karl Sabbagh (who between them have similar credits in Connections, The Ascent of Man, Cosmos, and The Body in Question) and is scheduled to be shown on Britain's Channel 4 as part of the Equinox series early this fall. It may air as a Nova show in the U.S. later; we will attempt to notify you in advance.

"The Mike Malone Show," a public television program on technology originating in Silicon Valley, interviewed Gordon Bell and Eric Drexler on topics including nanocomputers and nanotechnology. This was shown in various U.S. cities.

Both Discover and Popular Science ran articles in March on micromachines which included discussion of nanotechnology. Byte covered nanotechnology in May and The Stanford Daily did so in a March 15 article. Two newsmagazines, Time and L'Espresso (Italy) have conducted interviews, publication date unknown as yet. Other publications also have articles pending: American Scientist, Longevity, and PC Computing. Watch for a brief mention in the Wall Street Journal, and in Germany keep an eye on PM Magazin. We have just been interviewed by the San Francisco Examiner and the LA Weekly.

John Murray recently sent us a nanotechnology article from the British magazine Spaceflight dated March 1988 which we had missed; please keep sending in these articles, especially from outside the U.S.

FI continues to provide guests for radio interview shows; these are usually handled by Eric Drexler, Jim Bennett, Ralph Merkle, and Chris Peterson.

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Meeting News

In February an unusual regional weekend meeting of about 80 attendees was held by the Seattle Nanotechnology Study Group. Speakers were drawn from two categories: (1) scientists/technologists from academia included Gregory Benford (U. Calif.), John Cramer (U. Wash.), Eric Drexler (Stanford), Bruce Robinson (U. Wash.), Nadrian Seeman (NYU); and from industry G. Louis Roberts (Boeing), Marc Stiegler (Xanadu), Mike Thomas (Boeing). (2) Science fiction writers including Greg Bear, as well as Dr. Benford and Dr. Cramer listed above. The event was mostly nontechnical. A transcribed version of the proceedings is available for $15 from Nanocon, Box 40176, Bellevue, WA. (Washington residents please add 7.6% sales tax.)

Webmaster's Note: The printed version of the proceedings is no longer available, but the entire proceedings has been placed on the WWW:
Note also that Nadrian Seeman subsequently was awarded the 1995 Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology for the line of research he presented at this conference.

Two nanotechnology talks were given this spring at Hewlett-Packard: one to the Board of Directors on (March 16) and a more general technical talk (March 30). Other nanotechnology lectures included: Xerox PARC (March 10), the pharmaceutical company Syntex (March 22), the Austin computer consortium MCC (April 11), the Human Genome Conference (April 24), Argonne National Laboratory (April 26), Union Carbide Corporate Fellows (May 4), a retreat meeting of the Stanford Center for Integrated Systems (May 22), and a Stanford Medical Center Immunology Seminar (June 14).

A nanotechnology policy-oriented retreat meeting organized by Chip Morningstar was held in the Sierra south of Lake Tahoe over a June weekend; we hope to include a description of the event in our next issue.

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Nanotechnology Conference

The First Foresight Conference on Nanotechnology, to be held this fall, will be an invitational meeting of scientists and technologists working in fields leading to nanotechnology. It is sponsored by the Foresight Institute and Global Business Network, and is hosted by the Stanford University Department of Computer Science. The meeting will be limited to about 150 attendees.

The conference will enable researchers to review achievements on the frontiers of molecular and microscale systems and to explore their potential interconnections. Attendees will also briefly examine and critique possible applications of this work, including the long-term promise of techniques for thorough and inexpensive control of the structure of matter.

Scientists and technologists working in relevant fields who would like to be considered for participation should send a bio, c.v., or resume, along with a brief position statement, to FI for forwarding to the technical selection committee for consideration. Emphasize your connection, if any, to the meeting's four areas of focus: (1) protein and other biomolecule engineering, (2) molecular self-assembly; biomimetic, supramolecular, and host-guest chemistry, (3) atomic imaging and positioning (i.e. scanning probe microscopy), and (4) molecular modeling. If you have published in one of these areas, feel free to send only a reprint and a couple of sentences describing your current position. (Please do not contact the FI office regarding these invitations; the committee will contact you directly if you are selected.)

This is the first in a series of conferences on nanotechnology to be sponsored by the Foresight Institute; we anticipate that later meetings will be larger and able to accommodate a broader range of attendees.

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The summary of Dr. Jeff MacGillivray's talk for the MIT Nanotechnology Symposium in our last issue is in need of clarification: he does not regard conventional quantities of resources (e.g., kilograms or tons of rare metals) as being of substantial enduring value, although matter and energy on a sufficiently large scale surely will be. Also, the description of the LBJ School Project in our last issue omitted the key role played by David Armistead, founder of Futuretrends, in initiating the project and chairing (along with Roger Duncan) the Futuretrends project committee. The talk in Seattle was given at the University of Washington, not the University of Seattle.

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Letters to FI

The Foresight Institute receives hundreds of letters requesting information and sending ideas. Herewith excerpts:

Having read Engines of Creation, I am very interested in nanotechnology and agree wholeheartedly that it is critical to begin investigating our future with this technology now. Even without the advent of nanotechnology, the formation of groups (and 'metagroups') to help us investigate and plan for the future (or merely cope) would be urgently necessary, as the pace and scope of technological change picks up.

Adam Feuer
Cerritos, CA

Thank you for sending the reprints on nanotechnology that I requested. I must admit that while I still have reservations about the practicality of atomic-scale machinery [i.e. molecular machinery--editor] I find the concepts most provocative. Although I am sure you have dealt with the argument many times before, as a biochemical geneticist I feel impelled to mention that the somewhat higher organizational level of supramolecular complexes--such as multienzyme aggregates, mulifunctional enzymes, ribosomes, RNA splicing complexes, and of course the bacterial flagellar "motor"--offers certain advantages. One assumes that there is a reason why enzymes are large relative to their active centers and a plausible answer is that they gain thermal stability and the possibility of fine control over reaction rates and specificity. Nanomachines may need to be similarly embedded in or mounted on larger, mostly inert matrices...

Rather than emulating the structural rigidity of pre-Twentieth century mechanical engineering, the inherent flexibility of larger molecules could be exploited as they are in enzymes. I suspect that nanomachines will in general not be simple copies of macromachines on a very reduced scale.

Anyway, I'm convincible. The mechanical models are a logical starting point conceptually and will probably play an indispensable role as the actual working parts of nanomachines.

John H. Chalmers
Berkeley, CA

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We appreciate receiving copies of articles of interest from: Bill Ammells, Donald J. Fears, W.C. Gaines, Stan and Kiyomi Hutchings, Wallace McClure, John Murray, Billy Shilling, Barry Silverstein, and Daniel Wiener. Thanks also to Tom McKendree for a book recommendation which we plan to cover in the next issue. Ongoing thanks go to Fred Stitt (and his staff including Marty Barrett and Ed Gadsden) of Guidelines and Ed Niehaus of Niehaus Public Relations for their continuing pro bono work on FI publications and press relations, respectively.

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FI Wish List

FI is in need of the following assistance and equipment:

  1. Chemists willing to run energy minimizations on chemical structures relevant to molecular machinery.
  2. A software engineer who could port a database system (in Double Helix) to a faster, more compact Macintosh database.
  3. Apple computer equipment: a Laserwriter and a Mac SE or Mac II.
  4. CPK molecular models, including cyclopropane and other small rings.

Let us know if you can help.

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From Foresight Update 6, originally published 1 August 1989.

Foresight thanks Dave Kilbridge for converting Update 6 to html for this web page.