Foresight Update 40

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A publication of the Foresight Institute

Foresight Update 40 - Table of Contents | Page1 | Page2 | Page3 | Page4 | Page5


Institute for Molecular Manufacturing Report

The portion of Update 40 that constitutes the IMM Report is on the IMM Web site:

Foresight Update 40 - Table of Contents


Nanomedicine, Volume I Is Now Available Online

Nanomedicine, Volume I: Basic Capabilities, by IMM Research Fellow Robert A. Freitas Jr., is now available on the Web at A few bugs in the initial version that caused some display problems should be corrected by press time. Note: the Nanomedicine web site has been constructed using some XML structures. This may cause some odd display in older web browsers, and problems in printing. For best results, use a recent, XML-aware browser.

Foresight Update 40 - Table of Contents


Media Watch.40

by Richard P. Terra

Richard P. TerraAs Foresight Executive Director Chris Peterson has pointed out in her last two "Inside Foresight" columns, we seem poised at the base of an uptilting slope of rapid technological development, perhaps leading toward a "singularity." Certainly, within the last year or two there's been an enourmous change in the perception and the response to the concept of molecular nanotechnology, both among professional scientists and researchers, and among the general public. Some very positive memes appear to have established the necessary "population level" in people's minds worldwide, and are beginning to spread. This is reflected in the media coverage we've seen — well, most of it.

Two major articles covering nanotechnology, which recently appeared in two professional journals, reflect some of these changes:

The cover story of the 28 February 2000 issue of Chemical and Engineering News ("NASA Goes Nano," by Ron Dagaini), published by the American Chemical Society, presents an overview of NASA's increasing interest in nanotechnology for enabling space-related activities, with a focus on the five-day "NanoSpace 2000" conference held in Houston, Texas in January. As Dagaini writes, "the soul and passion of the meeting seemed to be focused squarely on the nano realm, the new frontier that promises revolutionary possibilities." And he quotes Samuel Venneri, chief technologist at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., who said NASA's dreamers have envisioned "a myriad of highly complex, first-of-a-kind missions," but these cannot be accomplished without integrating nanotechnology with microtechnology.

Interest and proposed applications for nanosystems inlcuded materials, instruments and sensors, robotic probes, and computing systems. In an extremely ironic passage, Dagaini describes the current enthusiasm for nanotechnology expressed at the conference:

"Nanotechnology itself was perceived as science fiction or of limited interest just a few years ago, but it's now viewed as 'a real revolution in the making,' according to Mihail C. (Mike) Roco, who coordinates nanotechnology research activities at the National Science Foundation . . . Roco observed that today there is a high level of enthusiasm in the science and engineering community for nanotechnology. In a panel discussion that concluded the conference, he and other scientists discussed ways to keep that enthusiasm going and to build and expand on it further."

This kind of acceptance and enthusiasm was almost unheard of just two or three years ago.

The article also describes discussions of the NNI, particularly comments by Roco, Richard Smalley and Carlo D. Montemagno of Cornell University on the need for the NNI funds devoted to teaching and training a new research and development workforce for the coming "revolution." There's an interesting quote from Rice materials chemist Robert H. Hauge, who "agreed that attracting the best and the brightest to nanotechnology is probably the most important thing that could be done to further the field. But he urged people to reach beyond the science community if they want to make a more immediate economic impact. Target the young entrepreneur who isn't afraid of grabbing hold of a revolutionary new technology and running with it, he said--you'll find them, for instance, in schools of management. 'All of these people now are going into dot-com companies,' Hauge observed. 'But if you could make them believe that their fortune would be made in nanoscience and technology, you would get fascinating synergies brought to bear to commercialize these technologies.' "

A lengthy, very useful survey of basic concepts and current developments in the field by Foresight Executive Director Chris Peterson appeared in the January 2000 issue of the IEEE's Computer ("Taking Technology to the Molecular Level"). Her article first focuses on advanced nanodevice design and simulation work at IMM, Xerox PARC, NASA Ames and Caltech, before turning to current experimental work with scanning probe instruments and other methods. She also discusses efforts at both private and government labs, such as the work at IBM, Xerox PARC, Hewlett-Packard and Zyvex, as well as work funded by NASA, NSF and DoD. In the second half of her article, Chris presents some of the challenges and potential applications to developing nanotechnology. She concludes:

"The goal is clear -- to inexpensively arrange atoms in useful patterns permitted by physical law. The exact path to that goal is still being shaped, but attitudes are changing. Only five years ago, chemists did not take nanotechnology seriously. Today I hear the comment, 'Molecular nanotechnology is just chemistry.' This tells me that the field is coalescing . . . These attitudinal changes will let us make swifter progress in developing and deploying what will become a foundational technology."

Chris' article is accompanied by a side bar by Zyvex researcher Ralph Merkle ("How Manufacturing Will Change") on the basic concepts of positional chemistry.

Media coverage of the propsed National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI; see cover story) was relatively light. Most of the coverage of President Clinton's proposed $2.8 billion increase in federal funding for science and technology RandD work focused on other areas, and even these were lost in the usual deluge of verbiage devoted to the federal budget as a whole.

However, a few articles focusing on NNI did appear, including one in the New York Times ("A Clinton Initiative in a Science of Smallness," by John Markoff, 21 Jan 2000), and another in EE Times ("Clinton seeks big rise in nanotech spending," by George Leopold, 31 Jan 2000), which provided a basic description of the program.

Another article was syndicated by the Knight Ridder Newspapers, (under various titles, by Robert S. Boyd, early February 2000). The article focuses on a "brochure" from the White House National Science and Technology Council (Shaping the World Atom by Atom, by Ivan Amato, a well known science journalist who has covered nanotechnology; available online). The brochure, and the article's summary of it, are based on the formal NSTC/IWGN report that led to the NNI. For the public who may have heard of nanotechnology only in recent weeks, both provide a useful introduction.

A remarkably similar article appeared in the Los Angeles Times ("Remaking the World One Atom at a Time," by Sylvia Pagan Westphal, 3 February 2000; available online). The article mentions the work of Nadrian Seeman at NYU, Richard Smalley at Rice, and Tom Schneider at the National Cancer Institute, and quotes the latter two. The piece appeared in conjunction with an article about the IBM "quantum mirage" (see below).

Yet another article along the same lines appeared in PC Computing ("Let's Get Small," by Dan Brekke, February 2000, available online). It discusses potential applications in materials and computing, mentions the work on molecular electronics at both HP and Yale/Rice, and touches briefly on medical applications. Once more, Rice's Richard Smalley is quoted: "The 10-year time horizon could be quite interesting for both materials and electronics," Smalley says.

An article in TechWeek ("Small Change: Nanotechnology promises to change life with molecular machines," by Ed Frauenheim, 7 February 2000; available online). Frauenheim's opening neatly sums up his article: "Small is getting big--fast. Laughed at by many scientists just a decade ago, nanotechnology is seriously seen now as a key to major advances in industries such as computing, aerospace and medicine." He discusses current theoretical and experimental work, then moves on to longer-term prospects, including extended life spans and uploading, before returning to the challenges between the two. The article includes comments from many leading researchers, including Al Globus at NASA Ames, Ralph Merkle at Zyvex, James Tour at Rice, and Stan Williams at HP, as well as Ray Kurzweil and technology analyst (and Senior Associate) Richard Smith. The article is accompanied by a sidebar on extropianism ("Building a Better Human Through Nanotechnology", also by Frauenheim; online)

An article in the San Francisco Chronicle ("Speed Is of The Essence," by Carl T. Hall, 16 November 1999) focuses on the molecular electronics work of HP's Stan Williams, who foresees an interesting convergence of information technology, nanotechnology and molecular biology.

The Wall Street Journal "Millennium Edition" for 1 January 2000 ("Think Small," by Timothy Aeppel, online) presents a reasonably balanced, if somewhat skeptical, look at nanotechnology, with an emphasis on impacts on manufacturing and economics. The article quotes Chris Peterson and Ralph Merkle, among others. An accompanying article ("Millennial Makeover: Who Do You Want To Be Tomorrow," by Wendy Bounds, 1 January 2000, online) takes a look at more speculative -- or at least more distant -- possibilities such as genetic thereapy, cloning, nanomedicine, body modification, and uploading. The article mentions quotes Peterson, Robert Freitas, Max More and Natasha Vita-More, and Robert Bradbury of Aeiveos Corp.

Nano-scale medical applications was covered in MIT's Technology Review ("Nanomedicine Nears the Clinic," by David Voss, Jan/Feb 2000; available online). However, the article focuses primarily on current or near-term research in genetic therapy, microcapsule and dendrimer drug delivery, and recent work on biomolecular motor systems. There's not discussion of advanced nanomedicine.

The same issue of TR also contained article on quantum dots, though it did not cover the fascinating work at IBM to create a "quantum mirage". For articles on that work, see: New York Times ("Peeking at an Atom in a Hall of Mirrors," by George Johnson, 3 February 2000; online) Los Angeles Times ("A Glimpse of Atomic-Scale Computing," by Charles Piller, online) San Jose Mercury News ("Quantum Leap," by Tom Quinlan, 3 February 2000)

IBM also announced a new initiative to develop a supercomputing system, dubbed "Blue Gene," capable of modeling complex biochemical systems, including the folding of protein molecules. In addition to IBM's announcement, there was considerable press coverage: New York Times ("IBM Plans a Supercomputer That Works at the Speed of Life," by Steve Lohr, 6 December 1999). Associated Press ("Supercomputer Thinks Small," by Peter Svensson, 7 December 1999). Science News ("Simplicity makes for superfast computing," by Ivars Peterson, 11 December 1999; on the Web).

Several interesting pieces by or about Ray Kurzweil, and his ideas about the development of nanotechnology, AI and uploading, have appeared in recent months. Kurzweil will be the keynote speaker at the Eighth Foresight Conference in November. A lengthy profile/interview in the New York Times ("The Soul of the Next Machine: Humans," by Rob Fixmer, 6 November 1999). An interview ran in Technology Review ("The Story of the 21st Century," by TR Associate Editor Rebecca Zacks, Jan/Feb 2000; online) An provacative article by Kurzweil apprears in Psychology Today ("Live Forever: Uploading the Human Brain," January 2000; online).

Numerous, mostly spurious mentions of nanotechnology appear in the January 2000 issue of Wired Magazine. However, are were also a number of lengthier, more substantial pieces that discuss nanotechnology: "Honey, I Shrunk the HMO!" by Niall McKay, discusses Drexler, Zyvex, biomotors and carbon nanotubes. "Clear the Line, I'm Sending Myself Right Now," by Charles Platt, deals with disassembling and reassembling a human (for possible "transmission"); extensive quotes from Ralph Merkle. "Don't Die, Stay Pretty: Introducing the Human Makeover," by Brian Alexander, covers life extension, body modification and related ideas. "As the MEMS Revolution Takes Off, Small Is Getting Bigger Every Day," by Andrew Leonard. Silicon MEMS. "These Boots Were Made for Driving." Nanoboots transform into a small, pod-like personal vehicle. Silly, but great graphics!

And the NPR talk radio program The Diane Rehm Show (18 January 2000), presented a panel discussion on nanotechnology, which included Carlo Montemagno of Cornell, IBM's Don Eigler, Ellen Williams, a physicist at the University of Maryland, and James Ellenbogan of MitreCorporation. An audio file of the show is available online.

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From Foresight Update 40, originally published 31 March 2000.