|Foresight Update 29 - Table of Contents|
27 we described HyperWave, a web-based software
program that appeared to fulfill all the requirements Foresight
has been trying to fill for years: fine-grained, extrinsic (i.e.
third party), bidirectional links in hypertext publishing.
We've run into an unexpected glitch with HyperWave. It does indeed have fine-grained, extrinsic, bidirectional links; however, these links are not visible in the original document. Instead, alongside the original "target" document, the reader is shown a list of URLs to visit. If the reader follows one of that list of coarse-grained extrinsic links to the commenting document, and then follows links back from that commenting document to the target document, then at that time the fine-grained nature of the commenting links becomes apparent. That is, the commented-on section is highlighted in the target document when visited from the commenting document. This may sound a bit confusing, but the upshot of it all is that when you're looking at a document and you want to see embedded commenting links-they aren't there.
Our plans had included joining the Hyper-G Consortium in order to obtain the source code, so that we could fix any glitches that came up, such as this one. However, in the last few months the open Hyper-G code has been commercialized into HyperWave and source code can no longer be obtained, so our plans to alter it will no longer work.
One of IMM's Senior Associates, Dave Forrest, is communicating with the HyperWave company to see whether this needed feature can be added. However, we have very little influence with this company, and we can't depend on this as a solution.
When we hit this roadblock with HyperWave, we looked back at our previous optionsthe options we considered prior to selecting HyperWave as our first choiceand found that our preferred solution involved extending some public domain annotation code originally written by Wayne Gramlich. The term annotation is frequently used to describe what we've been calling extrinsic links or third-party comments.
Although Wayne now works for a startup company and cannot take the project further other than as an advisor, Foresight is fortunate to have located a programmer who is very interested in completing this project, and who is available full-time and immediately. This is Terry Stanley, who has a long-time interest in argumentation visualization. So not only do we expect that Wayne's code will be given a good front-end and installed on our server, but also that Terry will continue to develop this code to make some really useful and unique graphical methods for argumentation visualization. This will be of great use when we get into having real debates and find ourselves needing all the support we can get in figuring out difficult, complex issues.
Special thanks to Ka-Ping Yee, whom some of you met at the recent Senior Associate Gathering, for handling systems administration for the project.
Web Enhancement is now moving faststay tuned for further news.
|Foresight Update 29 - Table of Contents|
More than 50 Senior
Associates of Foresight and IMM gathered May 2-4 at the Palo
Alto Holiday Inn for what had originally been advertised as an
Because Senior Associate Gatherings are "off the record", only a portion of what was presented can be summarized here.
Foresight Chairman and IMM Research Fellow Eric Drexler opened the Gathering Saturday morning by pointing to the "crisis in foresight" that exists today in our society as more researchers and other observers become convinced that nanotechnology is feasible, but nevertheless remain focused on short-term objectives and ignore the longer-term consequences of nanotechnology for society and for the lives of individuals. The increasing acceptance of nanotechnology as a legitimate mainstream research topic now allows IMM and Foresight to move the intellectual frontier "further west," he said. Instead of studying the next steps in the development of molecular systems technology and looking for intermediate technological payoffs, IMM can focus clearly on the long term objective of defining what systems to build once better tools for positional chemical synthesis are available. Instead of defending the feasibility of molecular manufacturing, Foresight can now speak more clearly about the profound changes that molecular manufacturing will bring. Specific examples of the latter cited by Dr. Drexler include radically improving the environment, manufacturing and living in space more cheaply than on Earth, and biostasis of currently terminal patients by cryogenic preservation in the expectation of vastly improved medical services in the future.
A consequence of the current lack of foresight is that people contemplate spending hundreds of billions of dollars to lower CO2 levels in the atmosphere, and agonize over the necessity of making "difficult medical choices", all because they ignore the profound changes to be brought by the advent of molecular manufacturing, perhaps 20 or so years from now. Dr. Drexler emphasized the necessity, when discussing such topics, of making explicit the time horizon that is being considered. Many critics of the proposition that nanotechnology will bring profound changes automatically assume a 5 to 10-year horizon for considering the future. In noting that there has been very little negative press about nanotechnology since last year's Web-based debate with Scientific American, Dr. Drexler concluded that very few critics now argue that molecular nanotechnology is impossible, but he encouraged the search for critics to identify specific challenges in developing molecular nanotechnology so that sufficient thought is applied to the problems of designing fault-tolerant complex systems. (Editor's note: see page 13 for a report on a search for nanocritics.)
Dr. Ralph Merkle of Xerox PARC described his recent work to design the complete "intermediary metabolism" of a proposed simple hydrocarbon assembler. The goal: to define a set of molecular tools (and the reactions each tool would conduct) such that a simple organic feedstock molecule could be converted by these reactions to manufacture various stiff hydrocarbons, including the complete set of tools used, producing more copies of the tools than are consumed in the process. This proposal uses butadiyne (C4H2) as the feedstock molecule, a buckytube as the binding site for the butadiyne, "vitamins" of silicon, tin, and transition metals for catalysis, and tools for hydrogen abstraction, for hydrogen deposition, for forming radicals on carbon, silicon, and tin atoms, and for inserting carbenes and carbon dimers. It is assumed that positional control of these tools is available, and that the reactions occur either in a vacuum or in a noble gas atmosphere. Dr. Merkle concluded that a hydrocarbon assembler with a simple intermediary metabolism as described should be feasible, but that more detailed calculations (including ab initio quantum chemical modeling and molecular dynamics) will be necessary to make sure that the proposed reactions will all work. Further, the design and manufacture of tools small enough to position several reactive molecular species in the proper relative orientations remains a challenge. A draft paper explaining Dr. Merkle's proposal in detail is available at his Web site. Additional information and background is available in Merkle's introductory article "It's a small, small, small, small world".
After lunch, the focus shifted to current entrepreneurial ventures. Considerable excitement greeted Jim Von Ehr's announcement that he had founded Zyvex, the first molecular nanotechnology development company, with the mission to develop the first assembler. (See accompanying story for details.)
Philippe Van Nedervelde outlined his ideas, plans and available assets for EUTACTIX, his own nanotech start-up which is presently in the early stages of formation. EUTACTIX's goal is to develop and market high-quality yet affordable nanotechnology tools and solutions via a suitable stepping stone: the sales of very competitively priced quality SPMs. Philippe is presently scouting for further partners and investors for this venture. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 32+14-88-18-63.
Turning from technology to society, Dave Krieger discussed "Technopolitics and the 'California Ideology'". He explored reasons why the Internet is more Libertarian than society as a whole, and speculated that the economics of molecular manufacturing will be similar to the economics of computing in that all levels of society will benefit. Chris Peterson elaborated upon the scenario in which molecular nanotechnology provides increasing wealth and cheap access to space so that increasingly the Earth will be reserved to support a beautiful and restored environment. She encouraged the audience, whenever possible, to debunk the mistaken notion that high-tech can mean dirty tech. Ed Niehaus discussed public opinion about nanotechnology, and how Foresight's approach towards informing the public has evolved over the past 10 years. It was suggested to make the topic more personal by publicizing the stories of the people in the field, and to make movies that depict a positive future arising from nanotechnology.
To close the first full day of the Gathering, the Senior Associates were treated to a talk by Marvin Minsky that touched on most of the significant areas of the intellectual universe. Since adequately summarizing this talk is impossible, only a few points made by Prof. Minsky are listed here:
Sunday morning Tom McKendree presented a portion of his study
of the potential applications of molecular nanotechnology to the
industrialization of space, discussing the advantages and
limitations of solar sails and rotating tethers, and pointing out
that major advantages offered by molecular nanotechnology include
the bootstrapping made possible by self-replication, and the
importance of self-repair in the high radiation environment of
Foresight and IMM Webmaster Jim Lewis discussed nanotechnology on the Web, and noted that traffic to Foresight's Web site has increased three-fold over the past year, and traffic to IMM's Web site has increased more than 12-fold (starting from a much lower base). After discussing the current Web sites, attention turned to plans to enhance the Web to make it into a true hypertext publishing system. Terry Stanley presented Foresight's current plans for the Web Enhancement Project based upon annotator software developed by Wayne Gramlich to enhance existing server and browser software. These plans are elaborated in articles on Foresight's Web site.
After another superb buffet brunch, Al Globus and Deepak Srivastava conveyed the excitement of the increasing commitment of NASA to molecular nanotechnology, particularly at the NAS Computational Molecular Nanotechnology Group, where new postdoctoral positions in both computational and experimental nanotechnology are available. They also described their recent work on "Molecular Dynamics Simulation of Carbon Nanotube Based Gears." More information is available on the Web.
Turning from near-term progress to the implications of long-term prospects, Thomas Landsberger shared his experience of the deep-seated fears that many people have upon first hearing that molecular nanotechnology will lead to significant life extension. Many people worry about how long they will have to work if they live very long lives, and about the large increase in population that might result. An aspect of longevity to emphasize is that people will live with the consequences of their actions for much longer, and that therefore much greater foresight is called for. Chip Morningstar addressed one of the difficulties faced by those trying to rationally discuss the profound changes to be brought by molecular nanotechnology: that "postmodernist" scholars in the humanities appear to judge arguments in terms of cleverness and politics, denying the existence of objective analysis of reality. He has written an essay about this topic available on the Web.
The last topic on the agenda was computer security. Dean Tribble noted that molecular nanotechnology will require very reliable software to control very complex systems. With today's software, such systems would crash, be insecure, and be penetrable. After establishing that intuition about security in the physical world is not applicable to cyberspace, Tribble briefly discussed some of the issues to be faced in making secure operating systems, leading Gayle Pergamit to comment that perhaps the major problems on the way to molecular nanotechnology will lie in the software, not the hardware development. u
Jim Lewis is a Forsesight and IMM Senior Associate and Webmaster for Foresight and IMM.
See next page for pictures from the Gathering.
From Foresight Update 29, originally published 30 June 1997.
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