Foresight Update 22

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A publication of the Foresight Institute

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Media Watch

Wired magazine, which listed nanotechnology in its "Tired" column a while ago, covered the topic in its popular "Reality Check" column in August. This regular feature selects a variety of experts on a topic and asks them to guess the date of arrival of various achievements in the field. The events selected were first molecular assembler, first nanocomputer, first cell repair machine, first commercial product, and first nanotechnology-oriented law. The experts were Robert Birge (Syracuse), Donald Brenner (NC State), Eric Drexler (IMM), Josh Hall (Rutgers), and Richard Smalley (Rice), all of whom have spoken or are slated to speak at Foresight conferences.

The ranges were: assembler, 2000-2025; nanocomputer, 2010-2100; cell repair, 2010-2050; commercial product, 2000-2015; law, 1995-2036. Perhaps the most interesting figure is the average guess for the development of the assembler: 2011. Because we're not used to looking at years starting in 2, it looks far off, but it's only 16 years from now-well within the lifetimes of most Foresight members. Amusing note: in three of the five categories, the average guess was earlier than the date guessed by Eric Drexler.

Business Week readers got a nanotechnology update in a July 3 report of the nanocatalysis being done by Lawrence Berkeley Lab's Peter Schultz. He uses a platinum-coated AFM tip to catalyze reactions at specific points on a surface. As Business Week puts it, "Imagine dipping an ultrafine quill pen into platinum ink, then using it to transform the chemical structure of individual molecules." [Editor's Note: see Jeffrey Soreff's column in this issue.]

The UK's Computing and Control Engineering Journal, in a June article titled "Nanotechnology in the Marketplace," asserted that "The UK's position in nanotechnology is strong, particularly in areas such as precision machining, metrology, nanolithography, and nanostructured materials" Unfortunately, these are all top-down miniaturization technologies, rather than bottom-up molecular nanotechnologies.

The Dutch science and technology magazine PolyTechnisch tijdschrift included an extensive nanotechnology article in their June/July issue featuring Eric Drexler and Ralph Merkle. Foresight will send a copy of the article to those able to provide partial translation.

The new book Nano by Ed Regis (LIttle, Brown, 1995) has received many reviews, mostly positive with a few negative. One gratifyingly positive review was published in Caltech's Engineering & Science magazine, Spring '95 issue: "By the beginning of the nineties, however, which was coming to be known as the nanotechnology decade, Drexler had written a book of equations...Nanotechnology is the future, it is now assumed, and all that remain are the philosophical questions...[Regis] writes with humor but takes his subject seriously at the same time. It may sound like science fiction, but it isn't anymore."

The Boston Globe exhibited some confusion in a May article on nanotechnology, stating " fast has nanotechnology moved out from the realm of speculation that significant steps are now reported almost weekly in scientific journals." Then later in the article: "Few other scientists believe such claims...'nanotechnology need not be taken seriously'." And then later, "Not only might it be possible to read the information on a DNA strand, but someday also to 'do some very precise microsurgery' on the DNA molecule itself to correct a genetic defect, for example." The overall impression was positive.

The R-rated movie Virtuosity, which features nanotechnology, has been receiving very bad reviews, so its level of accuracy or inaccuracy in its treatment of the topic may not be crucial.

Despite its odd name, Red Herring is a serious business magazine, we're told. Their August issue featured an interview of Foresight's Eric Drexler.

Naomi Pearce wrote about nanotechnology and Foresight for California Computer News in August. She reviews good and bad potential applications, as well as both U.S. and other nanotechnology R&D efforts, closing with, "Thus, we're not alone in developing this beyond-revolutionary technology. I just hope we develop it with true foresight-for the sake of the entire world."

Foresight Update 22 - Table of Contents


Recent Events, Local Events

Ralph Merkle spoke on molecular nanotechnology at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, ARPA, and the Naval Research Laboratory this August.

Eric Drexler spoke on nanotechnology at a meeting of Hughes and TRW space system engineers on July 26 and to Genentech researchers on September 17 at Asilomar. His lecture at the Smithsonian is being re-scheduled for the spring; we'll publish the date when available.

Also on September 17, MMEI president Steve Vetter spoke to the new molecular nanotechnology study group at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Ninety persons attended. The next meeting is Oct. 8; contact Joe Doyle at, tel 328-4695.

Representing Foresight Institute, Ted Kaehler of the Advanced Technology Group at Apple Computer spoke on the subject "Going to the Limit with Atoms: A Swift Introduction to Nanotechnology" at the EE380 Computer Systems Colloquium at Stanford University on May 24. His talk was carried over the University's television network later the same day. The talk's abstract reads, "What could we build if we really had control of atoms? The new engineering discipline of molecular manufacturing is exploring the answer to this question. One answer is an assembler-a machine that can make an exact copy of itself. Another answer is the molecular mill-a factory for spatially controlled chemical reactions. Why are computer scientists especially interested in molecular nanotechnology?"

The Los Angeles Area Robotics and Automation Group's Spring 1995 Symposium, sponsored by the Integrated Manufacturing Engineering Program at UCLA, the UCLA School of Engineering and Applied Science, the Departments of Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, and Mechanical, Aerospace and Nuclear Engineering, and the UCLA Engineering Graduate Students Association was held April 28 at UCLA. Among the speakers was Prof. Ari Requicha of USC, speaking on the topic "Molecular Robotics." (See a description of his Molecular Robotics Lab on the Web;

A molecular nanotechnology study group is getting started in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, Minnesota. It is being hosted by the Science Museum of Minnesota. They plan to meet the second Tuesday of each month, 7-9 PM. They have a core group including a physicist, chemist, mathematician, and several business and computer people. At least four of the attendees are senior associates of FI or IMM. Contact Steve Vetter at Molecular Manufacturing Enterprises, Inc. (612) 288-0093, or at

Molecular nanotechnology study groups also meet at MIT (contact Fred Hapgood, or tel 617-426-6758) and Caltech (contact Tom McCarthy, or tel 213-740-5682). The Caltech-based group has been working its way through the book Nanosystems: Molecular Machinery, Manufacturing, and Computation, chapter by chapter. The MIT-based group recently met with the haptic interface entrepreneur described elsewhere in this issue.

Christopher Fry of Harlequin Inc. spoke on nanotechnology to 50 gifted high school students taking special summer courses in biotechnology and space science at the University of New Hampshire. He reports being very happy with the quality of the audience's questions.

Foresight Update 22 - Table of Contents



Thanks go to Lewis M. Phelps, who served as Guest Editor of this issue of Update. Lew is founder and Principal of Phelps Consulting Group, a corporate public relations and strategic planning consulting firm located in Pasadena, CA. He is formerly a public relations executive with two large railroads and a major electric utility, and also has been a staff reporter for the Wall Street Journal. His interest in nanotechnology stems from his relationship with Global Business Network, whose participation in Foresight Institute affairs has been significant.

The prestige of the Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology has increased due to donations enabling us to increase its size, thanks to Marc Arnold, Christopher Portman, and Ted Kaehler.

Special thanks go to those of you making significant donations to the Web Enhancement Project: Frank Comardo, James Gallagher, Thomas Landsberger, Robert Leslie, Eric Lewis, Jim Lewis, Barry Silverstein, and John Walker.

Huge thanks as always go to Ralph Merkle, especially now for his tireless work as chairman of the upcoming nanotechnology conference. If you have access to the Web, be sure to see his set of nanotechnology pages (see Web and conference articles in this issue).

Recruiting thanks go to Marie-Louise Kagan for bringing in new Foresight members and to Steve Vetter for recruiting new Senior Associates.

As always, we are indebted to a number of Foresight members and friends for providing clippings and other valuable information. These include Jon Alexandr, Joe Bonaventura, Richard Cathcart, Michael Colpitts, Michael Edelstein, Chuck Estes, Dave Forrest, Tom Glass, Jones Hamilton, Fred Hapgood, Ronald Hartzell, Mark Haviland, G.A. Houston, Stan Hutchings, Samuel Lin, Scott MacLaren, Joy Martin, Tom McKendree, Ken Meyering, Anthony Napier, Hal Puthoff, Ronald Salesky, Tim Such, Tihamer Toth-Fejel, and Steven Vetter. We may have missed some of those contributing by email; it's getting to be quite a flood-please keep it coming.

We also gratefully thank Richard Terra for his donation of new Excel and Powerpoint software to the Foresight office.

-Chris Peterson

Foresight Update 22 - Table of Contents


Upcoming Events

42nd National Symposium of American Vacuum Society, Oct. 16-20, 1995, Minneapolis. Includes nanometer-scale science and technology: mostly top-down but also supramolecular structures, self-assembly, proximal probe based fabrication, biological nanostructures. Tel 212-248-0327; fax 212-248-0245; email

From Neurons to Nanotechnology, Oct. 18-19, NASA Ames. Sponsored by NASA, NIH, JPL. Machine intelligence workshop including Ralph Merkle and Charles Bennett on nanotechnology. Email, Web

Wescon '95, Biomedical Engineering session, Nov. 8, San Francisco. Includes "Going to the Limit with Atoms in Medical Technology: Nanomachines" by Ted Kaehler. Tel 408-734-8818, fax 408-734-8898, email

4th Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology, Nov. 8-11, 1995, Palo Alto. Enabling science and technologies, molecular components, systems design, R&D strategies. Foresight Institute, tel 415-917-1122, fax 415-917-1123, email, Web

Senior Associate Gathering, Nov. 11-12, 1995, Palo Alto. Annual meeting of Foresight, IMM, and CCIT Senior Associates (min. pledge $250/yr for 5 yrs). Intensive exploration of nanotechnology issues; participants need to have read Engines or Unbounding. Accessible to non-technical participants. Foresight Institute, tel 415-917-1122, fax 415-917-1123, email

29th International Conference on Systems Sciences, Jan 3-6, 1996, Maui. Sponsored by IEEE. Includes nanotechnology plenary by Eric Drexler. Tel 808-956-7396, fax 808-956-3766, email, Web

Organo/Molecular Electronics, Jan. 29-31, 1996, San Jose, CA. Sponsored by IBC Conferences USA. Includes scanning probes, self-assembly, structure-building with DNA. Tel 508-481-6400, email

Structure Controlled Macromolecules of Nanoscopic Dimensions, symposium within Materials Research Society Meeting, April 8-12, 1996, San Francisco. Includes nanoscale assemblies and nano-devices. Tel 412-367-3004, fax 412-367-4373, email, Web

Nanotechnology lecture for Smithsonian, Washington, DC, by Eric Drexler, date in spring '96 to be announced in later Update.

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From Foresight Update 22, originally published 15 October 1995.