Foresight Update 34

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A publication of the Foresight Institute

Foresight Update 34 - Table of Contents | Page1 | Page2 | Page3 | Page4 | Page5


Institute for Molecular Manufacturing Report

The portion of Update 34 that constitutes the IMM Report is on the IMM Web site:

Foresight Update 34 - Table of Contents


Media Watch.34

Business Week, published a special report in its August 24 issue; the lead article was headlined "The Next Wave For Technology: One day, scientists will be able to create materials atom by atom. The upshot: Doing everything nature can do, and more"

The story quoted Cherry Murray, Physical Research Lab director at Lucent Technologies' Bell Labs saying "Atom by atom--that's how nature designs and builds things. If you could influence design at such a scale, you could make any material you ever wanted."

After briefly discussing near-term MicroElectroMechanical Systems (MEMS) devices, the story then looked "somewhat further out--probably 15 to 20 years" where "high-tech visionaries foresee a transition that's far more radical and disruptive. Its quintessence won't be smaller, cheaper, faster electronics--though we will have all that in abundance. The transition scientists speak of involves nothing less than the hijacking of nature's own creative machinery."

"The coming wave of miniaturization and molecular electronics--sometimes called 'nanotechnology' -- is taking shape at the intersection of chemistry, physics, biology, and electrical engineering. And if it crests as many scientists predict, it will bring a wholesale industrial transformation, more dramatic than the late-20th century flowering of microelectronics," the article says.

"No one dismisses the enormity of the challenges. Atoms, at room temperature, inhabit a turbulent world ruled by forces we don't fully understand. Today's best theories, scientific instruments, and computer simulations provide only imperfect access to this domain. Why, then, do so many scientists believe in a Molecular Revolution? Because some of the necessary capabilities are already within reach.....Nano-engineers believe they can write new recipes or scripts that will instruct unruly atoms to form desired materials."

After more discussion of MEMS devices, the story concluded, "The vision of nanotechnology purists--teaching smart devices to assemble themselves from the ground up, atom by atom--is still a distant dream." It quoted Caltech physics professor Michael L. Roukes, ''The only true nanotechnologist today is Mother Nature.'' The article continues, "But slowly, humans are learning to mimic her handiwork. For example, by vaporizing carbon in vacuum chambers, Rice University physicist Richard E. Smalley and his colleagues create atomically perfect carbon nanotubes that don't exist in nature.

"The tubes are chemically stable, about 100 times tougher than steel, and scientists have just begun to explore their possible applications in industry. This summer, a Dutch research team turned one of Smalley's nanotubes into the world's first single-molecule transistor functioning at room temperature. Just 4 to 5 atoms in diameter, the circuit shattered a size barrier that ordinary silicon devices can't hope to cross, and it offered the first physical proof that atom-scale electronics are feasible. IBM has also demonstrated carbon nanotube transistors.

"How far off is a commercial device? Smalley admits that going from one experimental carbon transistor to one trillion of them on a chip is a staggering challenge. 'We have good days and bad days,' he says.

"That phrase perfectly expresses the zeitgeist of nanotechnology at the turn of the millennium. But few scientists seem inclined to turn back. The results will be a big surprise to economists who believe that industry already has reaped all the easy benefits of the Information Revolution. The revolution has barely begun."

The San Jose Mercury News reported on what it called an "intellectual circus," IBM's Almaden Research Center's "New Paradigms for Using Computers" workshop. Among the speakers was Foresight Chairman and IMM Research Fellow Eric Drexler. He's quoted as saying that all of the data to accomplish technological marvels others described will fit into a storage device so small "you'll have to squint to see it."

"Drexler's field is nanotechnology -- tiny machines, some just the size of molecules, that perform an array of tasks. IBM researchers showed the world that humans could manipulate individual atoms, he noted, and that ability will change the way we manufacture things -- from computers to jet planes," wrote Mercury-News technology columnist Dan Gillmor in the July 17 story.

Forbes Magazine carried an update on the cryonics movement. "Afterlife Insurance is the newest thing in financial services. As more people request to be cryonically preserved, insurance companies such as New York Life are covering the process," the financial publication said.

"In 1974 the American Cryonics Society began freezing bodies, and now a half-dozen cryonic providers, such as the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Alcor Life Extension Foundation, promise to pickle their clients in liquid nitrogen in the hopes of bringing them back if and when technology allows. The tab? $50,000 for the head, $120,000 for the whole body."

The journal Artificial Cells published a paper by Rob Freitas on respirocytes. Dr. T.M.S. Chang, Editor-in-Chief, wrote a special lead editorial recalling his own inability in the late 1950s to get his then-outrageous ideas on artificial cells (e.g. liposome) published anywhere, because the medical community thought the idea was too "far out." He persisted for 7 years, and finally got published. (Today, artificial cells is a thriving research area.)

Dr. Chang said he decided to publish the paper even though his usual panel of reviewers had judged Freitas' paper also to be "too far out;" nanotechnology is an exciting idea and the nanomedical approach deserves to be heard, he wrote.

Village Voice, a New York City weekly with 235,000 circulation, covered the Army's nanotechnology conference in its July 21 issue. (See Update's report on the conference.) The coverage reflected the mix of MEMS and molecular nanotechnology discussion at the conference, but accurately parsed the difference. Foresight Institute Executive Director Chris Peterson is quoted saying that the military are not "terrible people," and retired Admiral David Jeremiah, former member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a speaker at the 1995 Foresight Molecular Nanotechnology Conference, also is quoted, "by 2025 we almost certainly will implant enancements in the human body to deal with biological warfare, to enhance visibility and to increase strength of the soldier." Reporter Tyler Schnoebelen observes, "While [molecular nanotechnology] could end fighting over resources, it might also enable nations - and even small groups - to make weapons that would be undetectable yet highly destructive."

Foresight Update 34 - Table of Contents


For Every Book You Buy Online,
Amazon Donates to Foresight

Thanks to a partnership arrangement between Foresight Institute and, the world's largest online bookstore, members and friends of Foresight Institute can conduct convenient online shopping for books and help Foresight Institute at the same time.

You can buy practically any book this way, and trigger an automatic donation from Amazon to Foresight. To make this happen, bookmark and visit, the Nanotechnology Bookstore.

You'll find all the key nanotechnology books listed there, as well as nanotechnology-related fiction. But you can order any book from Amazon through the Nanotechnology Bookstore. Just click on "Search for Books" at the top of the Bookstore page, and then click on the Amazon "billboard." It will take you directly to the site.

Why bother to do it this way instead of just bookmarking Amazon directly? Simply this: every time you buy from Amazon by coming through the Nanotechnology Bookstore, Foresight Institute gets a healthy commission from Amazon. You can buy from Amazon at their already low prices, and have a part of your purchase price come directly to Foresight. It costs you not a penny extra, and it helps Foresight financially. This is, as the mediation gurus say, a "win-win."

Foresight Update 34 - Table of Contents | Page1 | Page2 | Page3 | Page4 | Page5

From Foresight Update 34, originally published 30 August 1998.