Foresight Update 23
A publication of the Foresight Institute
Aircraft Study of "Revolution in Military
Possible Role for Nanotechnology Devices
Hughes Aircraft Company foresees a looming revolution in military
technology, strategy and the nature of warfare. Nanotechnology
may well play a significant role, the company says in a recently
Revolution in Military Affairs, published in June
1995 and authored by Foresight
member Tom McKendree, concludes that emerging technologies - as
so often in the past - will reshape the way nations use force to
achieve national goals. And, as has so often happened in the
past, current military establishment leadership embraces new
concepts slowly and grudgingly, often viewing radical ideas
merely as threats to existing hardware programs.
The Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) will be driven by
advances in surveillance systems, precision-guided munitions, and
information technology, the study says. (The report cautions that
there's no guarantee of one and only one revolution.)
With respect to nanotechnology, the study cites Eric Drexler's Nanosystems
and says, "A final technical trend is increasing fine
control over matter. Manufacturing technologies are producing
ever-smaller features. The clear limit to this trend is atomic
scale features. At the same time, there are already ways to
manipulate matter at the molecular level. These technologies are
becoming increasingly general and powerful. These trends seem to
converge on an ability to perform digital material processing
(DMP). This would involve processing matter the same way
computers process information, at the lowest level, using massive
numbers of small, high-speed mechanisms. The result would be an
ability to process matter with a speed, reliability, complexity
and flexibility similar to that with which computers process
information. Given the power of computers, and the fact that
"matter" is at least as general a phenomenon as
"information," one would expect DMP to be as broadly
significant as digital information processing. If information
processing is the key to the [generally accepted RMA scenario],
DMP would likely be the key to a subsequent RMA.
"There are several possible development paths for digital
material processing. It is unclear which will succeed first, and
thus prediction when DMP might be developed is uncertain.
"Current trends are no guarantee of future performance, but
they are useful anchors to begin thinking about what might
happen. If current trends continue, then indications are that DMP
would be developed somewhere between 2010 and 2020, with 2015 as
a reasonable estimate.
"Developing DMP may run into significant difficulties,
delaying deployment. On the other hand, if developing DMP has
significant first mover advantages, then when it gets closer
there may be large, well-funded efforts to develop it. This
dynamic might significantly shorten the development period."
The University of Southern California Chronicle,
published for the faculty and staff of USC, led its October 9
issue with a story on "Manufacturing the minuscule."
The story reports on a multi-university research team led by USC
chemists Larry Dalton and George A. Olah. Other universities
participating include Caltech, the State University of New York
at Buffalo, Cornell University, and North Carolina State
University. "They will research new techniques to create
working devices with dimensions measured in nanometers - one
billionth of a meter," the Chronicle reported.
The U.S. Department of Defense has earmarked $6.65 million over
the next five years for the project, which will focus its efforts
on a nano-scale computer memory device. The project draws from
material science and chemistry disciplines, using the scanning
tunneling microscope to manipulate molecules one-by-one and build
memory devices with a "dendrimeric" structure,
so-called because of its branching nature, derived from dendron,
the Greek word meaning tree.
The group is working to design a new substance than can function
much like hemoglobin in blood cells, mimicking its ability to
first pick up and then easily give up an oxygen atom. The new
substance will carry information rather than oxygen.
In August the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) televised
a 30-minute program on "Big Science" on its Channel 2.
A third of the program was devoted to coverage of nanotechnology,
in the form of an interview with author Ed Regis, whose book Nano
was published earlier this year to mostly favorable reviews. (See
22.) The piece mentioned Eric Drexler, explained the
principle of nanotechnology, and then considered the likely
consequences, mainly in food production and the possible
elimination of unskilled work.
The Woodland Hills, CA Daily News in July carried a perceptive
and accurate description of the Idea Futures site on the
Internet (http://if.arc.ab.ca/IF.shtml) and extensively
quoted Robin Hanson of Caltech, who first unveiled the concept in
1990 while a visiting fellow at Foresight Institute.
"Standard institutions for punditry are defective," the
article quotes Hanson. "The consensus you perceive in media
is biased, and tends to be extreme. Academics have similar
problems. The idea is to have a fair way in which you can reward
people who are good predictors and discourage people who are
Scientific American published an article in its
October 1995 issue on "Quantum-Mechanical Computers,"
written by Seth Lloyd of MIT. He discusses the limits of size
reduction in conventional computer electronic circuits - "At
[the] scale where bulk matter reveals itself as a crowd of
individual atoms, integrated circuits barely function. Ten times
smaller again, the individuals assert their identity, and a
single defect can wreak havoc." He discusses logic gates
designed to rely on the ability of individual atoms to affect the
quantum state of neighboring atoms. "Quantum logic gates,
wired together, could make a quantum computer," he says.
"Needless to say, quantum 'wires' are hard to build."
His following discussion seems not to be informed by the growing
body of knowledge on molecular nanotechnology; he focuses on
larger-scale mechanisms to convey quantum information.
Annual Foresight Nanotechnology Conference, November 9-11 in
Palo Alto, was a huge success; citing those who made it possible
could consume this entire column, but special recognition for
their efforts goes to:
- Ralph Merkle of
Xerox PARC, who chaired the conference.
- All the speakers, who are listed elsewhere in this
newsletter in coverage of the conference.
- Cosponsoring organizations: the Caltech Materials and
Process Simulation Center, the Institute for Molecular
Manufacturing, and the USC Laboratory for
- Corporate sponsors, including Key Sponsor Apple Computer, Major
Instruments and Molecular
Manufacturing Enterprises, and Supporting Sponsors Biosym/Molecular
Loral Systems Manufacturing Company, Niehaus Ryan Haller, and
the law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges.
- Marcia Seidler, Conference Coordinator; Foresight staff
Judy Hill and Elaine Tschorn, and the many volunteers
without whom the conference would not have run so
We're grateful to Jon Garber of Connectix for donation of
one of their marvelous little golf-ball sized video cameras,
helping us move into the world of multimedia.
Thanks to Lew Phelps, who returns as Guest Editor for this issue
of Update. He seems to be taking on a role akin to
that of Carlo Maria Giulini, who for many years was
"Principal Guest Conductor" of the Chicago Symphony
Orchestra. Lew is Founder and Principal of Phelps Consulting
Group, a corporate public relations and strategic planning
consulting firm located in Pasadena, CA. His interest in
nanotechnology arose through his relationship with Global
Business Network, which participates significantly in Foresight
Thanks to Russell Whitaker
of Silicon Graphics for getting Eric Drexler's hypertext publishing essay
onto the Web; see the link from Foresight's home page
(http://www.foresight.org). Thanks also to Russell and to Wayne
Gramlich of Sun Microsystems for joining the Web Enhancement
discussion at the 1995 Senior Associate Gathering (see more in
the next Update).
Thanks to the following for their always-valuable help providing
paper and electronic newsclips, information tidbits, counsel and
commentary, and other items of interest: Jon Alexandr, Arlen
Andrews, Michael Colpitts, Douglas Denholm, Joe Doyle, Dave
Forrest, Robin Hanson, Tom McCarthy, Tom McKendree, Jack Powers,
Bryan Shelby, Jeffrey Soreff, Steve Vetter, Caroline Wagner,
Gunter Wittenberg. This is a partial list only; the flood of
information is increasing. Please keep it coming.
The Los Angeles Nanotechnology Study Group met Nov. 1 on the
west side of the Los Angeles, after two years at Caltech. The
move was intended to "give a long overdue break to the UCLA
folks" who have been enduring cross-town rush-hour traffic,
says group head Tom McCarthy, whose residence at USC puts him
halfway between the other two Los Angeles area campuses with
major nanotechnology interests. Those interested in the latest
plans of the Los Angeles group should point their Web browser to http://www-bcf.usc.edu/~tmccarth/nano.htm.
The group held its first meeting in December 1993, and has been
holding monthly meetings since. Meetings are usually held on
Thursday evenings at the California Institute of Technology in
Pasadena, with the program divided between technical and
non-technical interests. The technical portion has been devoted
to chapter-by-chapter discussion of Dr. Eric Drexler's Nanosystems.
Dr. Tanya C. Sienko, a researcher at the National Institute
for Science and Technology Policy in the Science and Technology
Agency (STA) of Japan, spoke in Tokyo in September on "The
Track of Japanese Nanotechnology Efforts: Present, Players, and
Dr. Sienko's interests and research lie in nanotechnology, where
she has been gradually starting to provide a link between groups
in the U.S. and Japan. She told the audience that in Japan, most
so-called nanotechnology research should be reclassified as
micromachine research. The work is being carried out by
interdisciplinary groups in government laboratories supported by
MITA and STA, and at universities. Large Japanese corporations
are also interested, but mostly consider nanotechnology (in the
U.S. sense) as only a research topic at present. She said Japan's
lack of small companies with "blue-sky" ideas may
inhibit breakthroughs, and that there are possible repercussions
from the biochemical research of the Aum Shinrikyo cult, which is
accused of the nerve gas poison attacks in the Tokyo subway
system and other terrorist-like activities. She also discussed
the lack of links between nanotechnology and biotechnology in
Dr. Sienko spoke on the same topic at Foresight Institute's Fourth Annual
Nanotechnology Conference in Palo Alto in November.
Notice to Study Groups: In our next issue Foresight
Update plans to begin regular publishing of meeting
information for selected local nanotechnology study groups. To be
included, please send information about your local group (name,
meeting schedule, location, contact point for more information,
and Internet URL if applicable) to Chris Peterson at Foresight
with a CC to Update Guest Editor Lew Phelps (Lew@PhelpsConsulting.com).
Dr. Ralph Merkle of Xerox PARC is scheduled to chair a session
on nanotechnology at the 3rd International Conference on
Anti-Aging Medicine and Biomedical Technology at the Alexis Park
Resort in Las Vegas, NV, December 9-11.
The conference is co-sponsored by the American Academy of
Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M), University of Minnesota, and Oklahoma
State University. It is described as "an opportunity for the
general public, scientists, and the press to learn about the
pioneering work in this emerging specialty by respected
clinicians and researchers. It addresses significant
breakthroughs about reversing the detrimental effects of aging
and is a forum for diverse disciplines."
Cornell University's Science and Technology Magazine
devoted most of its 32 -page Spring 1995 issue to the subject of
nanotechnology. Included in the issue are articles discussing the
scientific aspects of nanotechnology, the social and economic
issues, and a day in the life of a nanotechnology student. (See
on the Web http://www.englib.cornell.edu/SciTech/s95/ntek.html)
Anti-Aging Medicine & Biomedical Technology, Dec.
9-11, Alexis Park Resort, Las Vegas, American Academy of
Anti-Aging Medicine. Nanotechnology session chaired by Ralph
Merkle on Dec. 11. Tel 800-5BIOCON, fax 301-652-4951.
29th International Conference on Systems Sciences, Jan
3-6, 1995, Maui. Sponsored by IEEE. Includes nanotechnology
plenary by Eric Drexler. Email email@example.com
or call Foresight, 415-917-1122, fax 415-917-1123.
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,
Innovation '96, Feb 9-12, Baltimore. Sessions on DNA
Computing and Quantum Computation. Contact AAAS, tel
202-326-6450, fax 202-289-4021,
Molecular Nanotechnology Workshop, March 4-5, NASA Ames.
Current state-of-the-art computer simulations for nanotechnology
applications. Contact Marcia Redmond, 415-604-4373, firstname.lastname@example.org,
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 email@example.com,
Nanotechnology lecture for Smithsonian, Washington, DC, by
Eric Drexler, date in spring '96 to be announced in later Update.
Workshop on Computational Nanotechnology, July 11-13,
Colorado Springs Marriott. Contact after Jan. 1: Sally Meyer,
From Foresight Update 23, originally
published 30 November 1995.