Foresight Update 41

page 1

A publication of the Foresight Institute

Foresight Update 41 - Table of Contents | Page1 | Page2 | Page3 | Page4 | Page5


Foresight Launches Engines of Creation 2000 Project

Engines 2000 logoIn an open memo to Senior Associates and other members of the Foresight community, Foresight Institute President Chris Peterson announced an ambitious new project to produce an updated edition of Engines of Creation, which will help serve as a touchstone for setting the goals and developing strategies for Foresight activities. The Engines 2000 Project will also include an effort to develop software specifically for the design of hypertext systems for structured discussion on the Web.

"Most of us," Peterson wrote, "were inspired to join Foresight by the 1986 book, Engines of Creation, by Eric Drexler. It was — and still is — a great book, and is now viewed as having been right on some major issues, such as the coming nanotechnology revolution."

But Peterson went on to point out that Engines is now seriously out of date. For example, it called for "hypertext publishing" as an aid to the evolution of knowledge. We have this now: it's called the World Wide Web. This extremely important development, as well as many others that have occurred since Engines was originally published, need to be incorporated into Foresight's overall goals and strategies.

This ambitious project, at the heart of the Foresight enterprise, has an anticipated budget need of $95,000-$145,000 and is expected to be completed in the Spring of 2001. "We ask you to join in supporting Engines of Creation 2000," Peterson wrote, "with your ideas, energy, and funds."

In addition to the a new version of Engines of Creation, the Engines 2000 Project will include the design of hypertext systems for structured discussion on the Web, of the sort described in Chapter 14 of Engines, "The Network of Knowledge."

Hypertext and the Internet have seen major advances since Engines was published in 1986, but the World Wide Web and the tools available for building it are still inadequate to the purpose described in "The Network of Knowledge": structured web sties for scientific, technical, and policy discussion that use the nonlinearity made possible by hypertext to let each reader choose the right sequence, the right pace, and the right technical level while working their way through a body of textual information.

This type of structured hypertext is particularly crucial for the presentation of two types of content: technical arguments, where readers at different levels of comprehension can consult supporting and prerequisite material hyperlinked from the current page; and persuasive arguments, where readers need to be able to choose the next step in the argument that addresses the points they themselves most want to see addressed, and let them skip over others.

Since January, Senior Associate Dave Krieger has been working with Chris Peterson and Eric Drexler at Foresight on this aspect of the Engines 2000 program. "The need for small-F foresight is greater than it has ever been" Krieger writes in the proposal for the software development effort. "As a species and a society, we need to develop a rational and safe strategy for the development and management of these technologies before they arrive, and time is getting short . . . Thus I feel an increasing pressure to work more directly on the goals of Foresight Institute, and to apply what talents I have toward disseminating the Institute's memes before the greatest audience possible."

The mission of Foresight Institute is to help prepare society for anticipated advanced technologies. The Web is emerging as the most effective and accessible tool for reaching the greatest possible audience with any kind of detailed technical or rhetorical message. The open-source Crit system is one example of how Foresight has provided support for bringing the Web closer to true hypertext.

"We are asking for your assistance in helping Foresight Institute build tools for changing the minds of the world" Krieger says. "Specifically, we're asking you to consider making a directed donation for support of this software development and web content generation work."

The Engines 2000 Project will include:

For more information on the Engines of Creation 2000 Project:

Foresight Update 41 - Table of Contents


Foresight Publishes Guidelines for Development of Nanotechnology

Foresight Institute announced on 14 June 2000 publication of the first public version of the "Foresight Guidelines on Molecular Nanotechnology" to assure that research in this rapidly emerging field proceeds safely and responsibly. Based on the report of a February 1999 workshop in Monterey, Calif., sponsored jointly by the Foresight Institute and the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing, publication of the Foresight Guidelines begins an open discussion about the appropriate framework within which to develop nanotechnology.

"The Foresight Guidelines are a safety framework within which nanotechnology can emerge in the coming decades with minimum risk and maximum benefit," said Ralph Merkle, Principal Fellow at Zyvex and member of Foresight's Board of Advisors. "Developing nanotechnology within a context of public oversight and discussion in democratic countries is the safest approach. To do this we must continue a vigorous program of research and development. This is essential for an informed public discussion, as well as to pre-empt secret development by undemocratic regimes."

Neil Jacobstein, Chairman of the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing and Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute said: "The Foresight Guidelines are an important step in the direction of technologists exercising social responsibility long in advance of deploying molecular nanotechnology. We included a brief review of the issues, as well as development principles and some initial guidelines for device design. The Guidelines represent the beginning of a technology policy dialog, which will succeed over time if researchers, policy experts, and the public work together to understand the specific types of nanotechnology, and their associated benefits and risks. We intend to evolve the Foresight Guidelines into a viable strategy for responsible nanotechnology development."

Jim Von Ehr, President and CEO of Zyvex, said: "This is an important document that deserves careful reading by all concerned. As one of the first nanotechnology companies, Zyvex fully supports the Guidelines and is pleased that two of our senior scientists were able to participate in their preparation. I expect that a sense of professional ethics will compel nanotechnology developers to individually subscribe to these principles. These Guidelines are so important that grant-making agencies, even military ones, should require a pledge of adherence as a precondition of funding advanced nanotechnology development."

The full development of nanotechnology is still decades away, providing time for open discussion about what additional guidelines and enforcement mechanisms are appropriate.

Christine Peterson, President of the Foresight Institute, said: "The future will be so different from human history that we can barely imagine it — yet we need to if we're going to make reasonable decisions."

The full text of the Foresight Guidelines on Molecular Nanotechnology, with additional information, can be found on the Foresight web site at:

For those who wish to publicly express their support for the principles embodied in the Foresight Guidelines, an endorsement submission page is also available by following the link from the Guidelines main page.

Foresight Update 41 - Table of Contents


Inside Foresight

by Tanya Jones

Tanya JonesForesight is people. At no time is this more apparent than when a large number of Foresight members assemble under one roof. The atmosphere becomes noisy and charged with shared passions. If you've never attended a Foresight Gathering, there's no time like the present to put the next one on your calendar. Our dates for the next one are tentative, pending the execution of the hotel contract, but the weekend of September 8-10 is looking quite promising [Date now confirmed].

Going, Going, Gathering Gone

Our recent Senior Associate Gathering: Confronting Singularity was held, with much success. Over 250 people descended upon the Crowne Plaza Cabana hotel in Palo Alto for nearly three days of intense interaction. Participants discussed topics ranging from machine rights and intelligence to intellectual property and social systems, from the safe development of biotechnology and nanotechnological systems to liberty and reform tactics.

Our small staff and all volunteers were run quite ragged managing the flow of an event of this magnitude. Over a dozen tracks also offered participants some difficult choices; and given the wide-ranging interests of our attendees, this parallel processing will likely continue to be the case in future gatherings of this type. We will be making changes to tighten up the advance coordination and to better prepare the participants for this unique experience.

On the plus side, we'd like to commend all those attending on their resourcefulness and adaptive capability. We are pleased that everyone seemed to have fun, which is a key goal for these events.

Documentation of this event will be posted to the Senior Associates website. Results will be restricted to Senior Associates of Foresight Institute and the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing. We will be assembling and transcribing output from about one hundred discussion groups and are intending to prepare a summary document of the key ideas that were shared. Results will be posted to the Senior Associate website. This site and the quarterly Letter continue to offer excellent incentives for those still thinking about joining one of these organizations at the Senior Associate level.

Slashdot System Implemented

Thanks to the efforts of Senior Associate Dave Krieger, Foresight now has a Slashdot-style discussion forum. The new forum is now online at This forum is open to anyone wishing to post or read topical information on the development of molecular nanotechnology and other emerging systems. Searching the brief history of this site might lead you to quantum dots and silicon wires; reports on new molecules and manufacturing techniques; or Marvin Minsky discussing the nature of emotions and the potential for machines to possess them.

We hope to grow this site into a hotbed of activity, news, and information. Foresight tracks a wide range of topics, and you can help by visiting our site and submitting any interesting tidbits you encounter to this forum. Just a reminder: the software has a built-in reputation system that rewards high-quality posts—and vice versa—so let's all put our best foot forward.

Of Email and ISPs

It is Foresight's policy to only send mass email to members under specific circumstances: the quarterly distribution of news in the free electronic newsletter; mailings to remind registered members of upcoming deadlines and event information; and the occasional report on a new service or feature of Foresight membership. We do our best to send email only to those individuals deliberately requesting information of a specific type.

Our mailing list has grown to a size that any one of these mailings may be to a thousand addresses, all originating from our primary email address, This address has been noticed by some filtering companies and incorrectly identified as a source of spam. We'll be changing this single address to a series of addresses, and hope to eliminate any problems you may have experienced with rejected or undelivered email.

We have also had difficulties with obtaining assistance from our Internet service provider in maintaining our secure registration forms. As a result, we felt it necessary to move the main Foresight website to enable better control of the content. We recommend that everyone clear their temporary internet cache to ensure that you are looking at the most recent version (and the new location). To do this, press the shift key (or alt) and then refresh the page.

Changes in Foresight Officers and Staff

There have been some significant changes in Foresight's staff, as well as the election of Directors and Officers.

The annual meeting of the Foresight Board of Directors was held at the end of March 2000. During the meeting, the board elected the following officers and directors:


Directors (unchanged):

We welcome Paul Melnyk as a new Foresight officer and are grateful for his taking on the position of Secretary-Treasurer.

With Chris Peterson moving to the role of President, the post of Executive Director is currently vacant. Foresight is seeking an exceptional staff member to fill this position. The recruiting effort, including a search by The Management Center, is just getting under way, so a formal job description is not available at press time. Members of the Foresight community are encouraged to recommend candidates. If you know of any qualified applicants with an interest in leading this vibrant organization, please direct them and their resumes to us at

Yakira Heyman has also changed roles, to Foresight's Director of Development. Yakira will be concentrating her efforts on recruiting new Senior Associates and maintaining the happiness levels of current Associate members. Anyone with questions or concerns about the Senior Associate program may contact her at

Tanya Jones' title has also changed, to Director of Communications. She will be engaged in developing resource material for the membership, initially focusing on the reconciliation of the Gathering results. If you have any questions on this project or other Foresight projects, please contact her at

Last, but certainly not least, we extend a warm welcome to Harriet Weiss. Harriet will be taking on the challenging task of heading up our front office—the "face and voice" of Foresight—replacing Maureen Sullivan. For at least another little while, we ask for your patience when contacting the Foresight office. Our diminished capacity has impacted the timing and quantity of responses we can send out on a daily basis, but we will be back at full strength very soon.

In closing, we expect all of the recent changes to result in improvements in accessibility to information and to the organization of Foresight's internal structure. We hope you like the directions our activities are leading, and we encourage you to take advantage of the available tools to let us know what you think.

Tanya Jones is Foresight's Director of Communications. You can eMail her at

Foresight Update 41 - Table of Contents | Page1 | Page2 | Page3 | Page4 | Page5

From Foresight Update 41, originally published 30 June 2000.