Foresight Update 36

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A publication of the Foresight Institute

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Inside Foresight

by Chris Peterson

Chris PetersonAs you saw in our previous issue covering the Sixth Foresight Conference last November, experimental progress toward molecular machine systems is moving along well. If you also routinely read the journals, you know that there is now so much work going on that Foresight is unable even to mention it all.

Nanotechnology on Slashdot

To gain greater parallelism in our coverage, we are finding ways to enable members to participate more directly in the information gathering-and-sorting process. For months now I have been an admirer of "slashdot", an online web service which gathers and disseminates news in a spontaneous-order, bottom-up fashion: "News for Nerds, Stuff that Matters". Thousands of news items are received daily from contributors; these are then processed by volunteers until the top ten-to-fifteen stories are selected. The top stories winnowed from this process appear on a web page that updates daily:

Slashdot already carries the occasional nanotech item due to interest in the topic by co-founder Jeff Bates. He is interested in carrying more of these stories, so when you find nanotech news items, send them to both Foresight and Slashdot. Foresight is building a comprehensive collection, while Slashdot will take the most important items — in their view — and bring them to the attention of a very wide audience. I am told that within two to three months, readers will be able to select subcategories to read, enabling us to screen out non-nanotech items if we wish.

Be aware that if your submitted news item is selected by slashdot, any URLs in it will be swamped with traffic. This is known as "the slashdot effect". Giving URLs for small servers on slow connections is not a service to readers or the server owner — at least not in the short term.

One important caveat: in the discussion listed under each featured news item, slashdot accepts anonymous comments, which they label as written by "Anonymous Coward". This leads to a lot of flaming, which Foresight members may not be used to wasting time on. I deal with this by simply not reading the discussions at all. Hopefully, slashdot will soon enable optional screening out of anonymous comments for those who prefer not to see them.

Open Source: from Movement to Industry

Having just returned from the 2nd Open Source and Community Licensing Summit, I can report that Open Source appears to be exploding with growth. This was also clear at a trade show held just beforehand, LinuxWorld Conference & Expo, where Foresight had a table at the evening reception thanks to an invitation from Linuxcare.

At both events we were asked, "Why is Foresight here — what is the connection between nanotechnology and Open Source software?" Here's why:

A world with deployed molecular nanotechnology is a world of ubiquitous computing, which requires ubiquitous software. Obviously, most of today's software is neither reliable nor secure enough to run key applications such as, for example, medical nanodevices. (What an understatement.)

Foresight sees Open Source software as key to reaching the level of reliability and security needed for nanotechnology. Open Source is not the entire answer, but it will play a major role, by enabling peer review — and improvement — of source code, the defining instructions in computer software.

At the events above, we invited the Open Source and Free Software communities to join with Foresight in speeding this process. It helped that we are already funding one Open Source project (, and would like to do more. We are considering having an Open-Source-oriented conference later this year.

Apology: the Problems of Success

Normally I would be urging you to join as a Senior Associate and come to this spring's Gathering, but that's not possible this year — the meeting is already full. We expect many disappointed would-be Senior Associates to give us a hard time about this.

Turning away donors — how could this situation happen? Well, we designed a fantastic Gathering, and invited a number of VIPs to come as guests. So many accepted that the meeting suddenly became highly attractive, so back in January we alerted current Senior Associates to register immediately. They did, filling the event solid and leaving no room for newcomers.

Move to a bigger facility, you suggest? Good idea, but we can't do it this year, because this Gathering is specifically designed to take advantage of a DesignShop facility here in Palo Alto. (for details on DesignShop)

Fortunately, there is a way out of the dilemma: if people like our meetings so much, we should probably have more of them. That's why we're considering the Open Source meeting idea mentioned above. Whether this happens or not is up to you — let us know if you're interested.

For the serious Open Source promoters among us: check out the "Evolution of Open Source Software" poster for sale at Foresight is mentioned, and 10% of profits go to the Free Software Foundation.

Christine Peterson is Executive Director of Foresight Institute.

Foresight Update 36 - Table of Contents


Foresight Supporters Match Challenge Grant

We're enormously pleased to announce the successful completion of our $40,000 Challenge Grant. An anonymous benefactor of Foresight pledged up to $40,000 in matching funds for every dollar in new funds received in response to the challenge. Together, Foresight supporters met the challenge by the 28 February deadline, securing a total of $80,000 in funding for Foresight programs and activities.

While one-time pledges accounted for the bulk of the donated funds, it's worth noting that the challenge also helped encourage the enrollment of 26 new Senior Associates (20 at the Associate level, 5 Fellow, and 1 Colleague), and spurred 2 Senior Associates to upgrade their support level. Enrolling new Senior Associates is particularly important, because their multi-year commitment provides reliable, long-term funding. The final figures for the fundraising drive can be found at

Many thanks to everyone who worked to make this challenge grant such a success! Special thanks go to Foresight Webmaster Jim Lewis for continuous updating of the webpage (a key factor in our success!), and to Elaine Tschorn, Foresight Membership Services Coordinator, for rapidly processing large numbers of donations (a key factor in keeping the webpage updated!).

Thanks to their hard work and your support, Foresight is a (successful!) pioneer in the field of online fundraising.

Foresight Update 36 - Table of Contents


New Senior Associates Web Site Debuts

by Tanya Jones, Foresight Special Projects Coordinator

The new Senior Associate site — informally dubbed the "Senior Associate Machine," or SAM — is now open. This area has been created to allow the Senior Associates to communicate with each other and with the Foresight and IMM staff. We encourage you to visit us at

Site features include a listing and description of Foresight projects and interesting independent projects with goals similar to that of the organization; an online, text-based chat room where Senior Associates can discuss aspects of nanotechnology with others; a complete archive of the Senior Associate letters written by K. Eric Drexler; a growing archive of photos from Senior Associate gatherings and events as well as the Foresight Nanotechnology Conferences; and a Roster containing Senior Associate names, addresses, and contact information.

The new chat area employs software and hosting by Electric Communities, and you will need to download the appropriate client software to access the chat forum. Set aside some time for this download when you won't be needing your computer, as the Windows client is 2.8 MB and the Mac client is 1.26 MB. (On a 28.8k modem, this should take about 15 minutes.) Once you have installed the client software, you'll be able to enter the Nanotechnology Discussion Forum and begin conversations with up to 20 other participants.

The site also contains a list of books that are a must for any nanotechnology library. Purchasing any book listed by name via a link to online bookseller (at the top of the page) will return 15% of the already low Amazon price to Foresight. Purchasing additional books through Amazon will net Foresight up to 10% of your order. Any Senior Associate who would like their published works listed should send email to Foresight with the title of the book and publication date. For more information on the Foresight/Amazon partnership, see the article in Update 34.

We will continue to add new features to this site as they are developed, and we welcome any comments and suggestions for making the site more useful to Senior Associates.

This site is password protected, and all Senior Associates should have received their login information by the time this issue of the Update appears. If you have not received your information, it may mean that we do not have your current email address on file. Please send email to to obtain login access.

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From Foresight Update 36, originally published 30 March 1999.