Foresight Update 38

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A publication of the Foresight Institute

Foresight Update 38 - Table of Contents | Page1 | Page2 | Page3 | Page4 | Page5


Institute for Molecular Manufacturing Report

The portion of Update 38 that constitutes the IMM Report is on the IMM Web site:

Foresight Update 38 - Table of Contents


Media Watch.38

by Richard P. Terra

A brief item on nanotechnology appeared in the Marine Corps Gazette ("Up and 'Atom' — Great Things in Small Packages", January 1999) reprinted from The Warrior, a publication of the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Command (August 1998). The article takes a very positive outlook for employing NT for new materials, information systems and so on, and makes no mention of the potential use of NT in weapons systems. Basically, a "popular science" gloss for a military audience.

An article on molecular switching elements for nanocomputers appeared in Electronic Engineering Times ("Molecular switches probed for nanocomputers," by R. Colin Johnson, 22 March 1999). The article discussed work at the Universities of Washington (Seattle) and Arizona, including Viola Vogel, who presented at the Sixth Foresight Conference on Nanotechnology last year.

An interesting article on interactive immersive visualization of atoms and molecules appeared in the June 1999 issue of Computer Graphics World ("Atomic Discovery," by Diana Phillips Mahoney). The article describes the Virtual Mechanosynthesis System (VMS) under development by Chris Henze, Bryan Green and Creon Levit in the NASA/Ames' NAS nanotechnology group. VMS "couples an accurate molecular dynamics simulation code to an immersive, interactive graphical display." The article states "The developers believe that VMS will provide a valuable window into nanotechnology, specifically into the 'how-tos' of building a nanoassembler—a device that will actually manipulate atoms."

An article by Nobel laureate Richard Smalley of the Rice University Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology appeared in R&D Magazine ("Nanotech Growth," June 1999). Although the article focuses on current research with fullerene nanotubes, Smalley discusses their potential use for building nano-scale electronic circuits, as well as the basic idea of atomic and molecular manipulation, leading toward molecular manufacturing capabilities.

Testimony by Smalley and others before a U.S. House subcommittee (see Update 37, as well as Foresight Briefing #5) in support of increased federal R&D funding for nano-scale science and technology was the subject of an article in Electronic Engineering Times ("Nanotechnology leads U.S. thrust in R&D spending," by George Leopold, 28 June 1999).

The Chairman of that House subcommittee, Rep. Dick Smith (R-NY) wrote a guest editorial in support of nanotechnology R&D funding in the Albion Recorder ("The Next Technological Revolution," 1 July 1999). The testimony at the June hearing seems to have made a real NT advocate of Smith, who concludes his article, "The leap from our current capabilities to realizing the best hopes of nanotechnologists is huge . . . But the benefits of nanotechnology research warrant our aggressive commitment and support."

An extensive article on nanotechnology appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle ("Brave New Nano-World Lies Ahead," by Carl T. Hall, 19 July 1999). The article gives a fairly good conceptual overview, raises some standard straw-man skepticism, and describes interesting recent work in fullerene nanotube and the HP/UCLA molecular computing elements work mentioned above. The article quotes Richard Smalley, "Richard" (Jim) Von Ehr (can't anyone in the press get his name right?) of Zyvex, Ralph Merkle of Xerox PARC and IMM, Al Globus at NASA/Ames, Philip Kuekes at HP Labs, Foresight Director Chris Peterson, and Marc Arnold, one of the co-founders of the Feynman Grand Prize.

A companion article, "Plumbing the Dark Side of Nanotechnology," also by Hall, appeared in the same issue of the Chronicle. This sidebar presents a very brief and largely superficial discussion of the potential use of NT systems in weapons of mass destruction.

Both articles were available at the Chronicle web site.

Extensive coverage of the HP Labs/UCLA work on molecular computing elements in "fault tolerant" systems appeared on the front cover of the New York Times ("Tiniest Circuits Hold Prospect of Explosive Computer Speeds," by John Markoff, 16 July 1999). Numerous other reports of the announcement of this work appeared nationally and worldwide via the news wire services, and HP reported on it extensively on their web site. A follow-up piece in the NY Times, also by Markoff, added details and profiled lead HP researcher Philip Kuekes ("A Renaissance In Computer Science," 19 July 1999). A number of these pieces also appeared on the Web (see Web Watch, this issue).

A related article, an interview of HP Labs researcher Stanley Williams, appears in the September/October 1999 issue of Technology Review ("Computing After Silicon," by David Rotman). The interview is available on the TR web site.

A special issue of Business Week devoted to "21 Ideas for the 21st Century," included molecular nanotechnology as #4 ("Nanotech," by Otis Port, 30 August 1999). The short piece presents the core concept of molecular manufacturing in a glib manner, but focuses on molecular electronics research at MITRE Corporation, and quotes MITRE research director James C. Ellenbogen extensively. Mention is also made of the recent HP/UCLA research and the congressional hearing on nanotech R&D funding.

A special issue of Health Forum Journal (The Century of Biology: From Genomics to Nanotechnology, July/August 1999) included one article that focuses on the potential medical uses of nanotechnology ("Nanomedicine: Will trillions of tiny robots in our bloodstreams do physicians' work for them?" by David O. Weber), and two other articles that mention it. These artcles can be found on the HFJ Online web site.

An article on Web backlink and commenting software systems appeared in the San Jose Mercury News ("Post-It Digitally," by Stephen Buel, 28 May 1999), and was syndicated under various headlines by the Knight Ridder news service. While it focuses on the brouhaha that's blown up around the ThirdVoice annotation software, the article correctly assigns precedence in introducing a working backlink and commenting system to Foresight's CritSuite.

An interesting article on a proposal for "open sourcing" all data from research conducted using federal funding appeared in the New York Times ("Law on Access to Research Data Pleases Business, Alarms Science," by Philip J. Hilts, 31 July 1999). The proposal, by Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Alabama), calls for an addendum to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) so that "anyone can write a request . . . and get 'all data produced' by a published study paid for with any public dollars, and potentially receive everything from a summary of findings to a scientist's notebooks or E-mail or, in some cases, information about patients."

Another interesting piece in the New York Times ("Plotting Corporate Futures," by Barnaby J. Feder, 24 June 1999) describes a convocation of biotech industry heavyweights from Monsanto, Hoechst, DuPont, Novartis, Proctor & Gamble and Unilever for a GBN/DesignShop-style scenario building and imagineering conference. In a bizarre twist, neo-Luddite gadfly Jeremy Rifkin was invited to participate as well. The article states, "Mr. Rifkin said he found the process fascinating but was unsure what to make of it." The article discusses the increasing use of scenario building as a forecasting and planning tool.

Foresight Update 38 - Table of Contents


Web Watch.38

by Jim Lewis

Jim Lewis
The Website for the Laboratory for the Study of Novel Carbon Materials presents the work of the research group of Professor Rodney S. Ruoff in the physics department at Washington University in St. Louis. The laboratory's "major interests are synthesis and properties of carbon and boron nitride nanotubes and nanofibers, fullerenes, and how materials synthesis at the sub-micron scale can impact the biological sciences." Included are pages on a half dozen research projects on nanotubes and nanoparticles and related topics as well as collected images from their research results.
The Website of the Computational Nanotechnology group of Drs. Bobby G. Sumpter and Don W. Noid at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. "The computational nanotechnology project has successfully modeled and simulated components of nano-machines and aspects of fundamental chemical physics at the nanometer scale." Included are pages summarizing projects on the dynamics of a molecular bearing, nanometer-scale laser driven motors, dynamics of fluid flow in carbon nanotubes, and on helium-buckyball flow in a carbon nanotube.
This page lists nanotechnology-related illustrations available on the American Institute of Physics web site. As of Sept. 1999, 29 entries are listed, including a "Nanoguitar" (July 30, 1997), a "quantum corral" made by positioning iron atoms on a copper surface (May 11, 1998), an image of 10-nm-wide silicon dioxide lines and words "written" on a silicon substrate with a carbon nanotube tip (September 10, 1998), and using a vibrating nanotube as a nanobalance to directly weigh viruses and other tiny particles (March 8, 1999).
This newswire (June, 1999) announced a deal between the Australian research organization CSIRO and an Austrian company Electrovac to research using carbon nanotubes to fabricate a new flat screen technology that may eventually allow television screens to be "folded up and placed in a shirt pocket".
Dick Smith's Science, Technology, and Public Policy Web Page. Richard Smith, currently a Senior Analyst at the Washington, DC futures think tank, Coates and Jarratt, Inc., provides various reports on nanotechnology that he has written or helped to prepare. Topics include the role of nanotechnology in the Military Health Services System of the year 2020, the philosophical and ethical implications of nanotechnology, molecular nanotechnology research in the U. S. and in Japan, essays on how nanotechnology "will play" to different social groups, and his thesis "A Policy Framework for Developing a National Nanotechnology Program."
The article "Nanomedicine: Will trillions of tiny robots in our bloodstreams do physicians' work for them?" by David O. Weber, appears in the July/August 1999 special issue of Health Forum Journal entitled "The Century of Biology: From Genomics to Nanotechnology." This article is "a whimsical and fascinating history of the 'tiny' engineering feats that could eventually turn the world of health care delivery upside down."
This article from Wired News describes a Web site launched by the Defense Department's National Security Study Group to solicit public input in shaping national policy. "The group sees open-source software development like Linux and Mozilla as something that will drive technological developments over the next 25 years and -- along with nanotechnology and biotech -- have a significant impact on issues of national security."

To participate, visit the National Security Study Group Web site:
The reports:
The debate forums:
Future Tech forum:
"Biological computer prototype unveiled" This article from the BBC News Online Science Editor describes a proposal developed by Professor Ehud Shapiro of the Computer Science Department at the Weizmann Institute of Science and presented at the Fifth International Meeting on DNA-Based Computers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Professor Shapiro presented a 30 cm-high plastic model of his mechanical computer, which, if built from biological molecules, would measure about 25 nm.
The above two Web pages describe research published in Science (July 16, 1999) that advances work towards making molecular computers. The team at the UCLA Chemistry Department and at Hewlett-Packard created a molecular "logic gate" using rotaxane molecules. This research extends the work on a "defect tolerant" computer architecture named the Teramac, reported by the same team last year [See Update 34].
The Web site of the UCLA part of the above team: James R. Heath and his group.
Providing more information on Teramac and the molecular logic gate, the Hewlett Packard Company Website has recently added a new section "Brilliant New World: HP Labs at the Forefront of Nanotechnology." These pages show how HP customized an STM to allow imaging atoms in the self-assembled molecular wires and switches. The HP Web site also explains how the Teramac computer architecture uses cross bars to bypass defective components so that reliable computers can be assembled from inexpensively fabricated devices that include defects. HP appears strongly committed to developing nanotechnology: "These microscopic chip-like devices are moving nanotechnology into the next developmental phase-the creation of a nano-computer."
This Web site on "amorphous computing" focuses on fundamental questions for organizing computing systems, including defect tolerant computer architectures, like the Teramac system above, and how to instruct "myriads of programmable entities to cooperate to achieve particular goals" ... "The objective of this research is to create the system-architectural, algorithmic, and technological foundations for exploiting programmable materials. These are materials that incorporate vast numbers of programmable elements that react to each other and to their environment. Such materials can be fabricated economically, provided that the computing elements are amassed in bulk without arranging for precision interconnect and testing." Amorphous computing is an activity of Project Mac, associated with both the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab and the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science.

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From Foresight Update 38, originally published 30 September 1999 .