Foresight Update 49

page 2

A publication of the Foresight Institute

Foresight Update 49 - Table of Contents | Page1 | Page2 | Page3 | Page4 | Page5


Inside Foresight

by Tanya Jones

Tanya Jones Our Senior Associates' Gathering in April was a hit. We had about 200 members of the Foresight community attending, which included a mix of new and long-standing Senior Associates. Photos from the Gathering appear below.

This year, for the first time, the Gathering was open to the news media, and there was some press coverage, including an article in the New York Times ("They've Seen the Future, and Intend to Live It", by Bruce Schechter, 16 July 2002.

If you are a Senior Associate, we have converted many of the audio recordings of the presentations made at the Gathering to .mp3 files for your enjoyment. These are available from the Senior Associate website at:

Each audio file is large, ranging in size from 1.4 to 7.8 megabytes; so be aware that downloads may take time. You will need a user name and password to access the site; if you've forgotten yours, contact the Foresight office.

A change in policy allows us to release a few of the audio files from the meeting to non-Senior Associates. These files will be made available on our main web site [, plus see the links below for individual talks], and I encourage you to take the time to download and listen to them.

Some highlights from the speaker presentations:

A World with Advanced Technology

Before we move much farther forward, we would benefit from ensuring our goals that are workable and appealing and yet also take into account the vast array of technological advances that we can already expect to be developed. In his talk, Eric Drexler said one of the reasons the future seems so terrifying to some people is that they consider specific advances in isolation. For example, a person who can imagine an increased life span, yet neglects an expansion in the living space available to us, would likely be horrified at the resultant over-crowding that longer lives could bring with no changes in the reproductive rates.

Drexler stated, "If we don't forge ahead and formulate a more integrated picture of the future, then no one will; and it won't be there when it's needed." But what does he consider to be the fundamental inputs for the future? Three things: molecular manufacturing, machine intelligence, and expansion into space. Listen to the talk to find out how these agents might be seamlessly incorporated into a variety of worldviews and where this might lead.
A World with Advancing Technology (3.9 MB mp3 file)

Combating Anti-Technology Memes

Neil Jacobstein spoke on combating anti-technology memes in the fresh light of his efforts to encourage discussion and critique of the Foresight/IMM guidelines for the safe development of molecular nanotechnology. Through his efforts, our draft has not only been discussed extensively online and at meetings across the country, but was presented to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Memetic challenges exist in this attempt to develop policy for molecular nanotechnology. In assessing the reactions to his presentations, Neil has found that we are still fighting the last war — the one on technical feasibility — rather than the new ones on what solutions should we develop and how we pro-actively mitigate the risks of these emerging, powerful technologies.

Anti-technology memes include statements that the risks of molecular nanotechnology outweigh any potential benefits that may accrue; and nanotechnology is not inevitable, and we can decide not to do it. He also hears that nanotechnology should be criminalized in a fashion similar to certain aspects of the biotech industry or that the risks of future terrorism are so high that development should cease. Increased accountability, better intelligence and law enforcement, and greater transparency would help reduce these risks.

"The issue is the quality and accountability of interaction, not whether we are going to have nanotechnology," he says, suggesting that the most important thing we could do is reduce the number of people in the world who are mired in desperate circumstances. Neil presents specific recommendations for how these, and other, anti-technology memes might be countered or diffused in reasoned debate.
Unfortunately the audio file for this presentation is currently only available on the Senior Associate Website.

Designing Robots with Moral Sense

J. Storrs Hall has been studying machine intelligence for more than 25 years, and he spoke on how to build robots with an ethical system. As with nanotechnology, machine intelligence must be developed with caution, so that undesirable consequences may be avoided. One way to do that is to build robots that have a similar moral conscience as humans.

Currently, machine intelligence is deployed to function as an assistant to humans and is generally capable of performing one task well; but this will not always be the case. We will soon begin to see machines evolve that are increasingly capable of complex decision-making until those machines meet and exceed the capabilities of humans. At that point, it will become important that those machines have moral reasoning so that they are not sociopathic.

Cognitive architecture will require multi-disciplinary functions for machines just as they are required for humans. Josh reviews the current state of the art and discusses the symbolic representation that will enable memory and individual learning for machines. Listen to his talk if you're interested in one way machine intelligence might evolve.
Designing Robots with Moral Sense (4.0 MB mp3 file)

Other notable presentations include:

In Closing

This meeting emphasized clearly what a vibrant, committed, and entertaining group the Senior Associates has become. We continue to encourage everyone with ideas on how to help move the development of policy, ethical machine systems, memetic engineering, space systems, or other useful architectures to write up their views and submit them either to Nanodot or to the Foresight Update.

If you are already a Senior Associate, or become one, you can attend our great Gatherings and post your ideas directly to the Senior Associate website for other members to view. If any of you have notes from this year's Gathering that you're willing to share, we'd be happy to put them up as part of the Gathering archive. Join us, and get in on the fun.

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

Foresight would appreciate learning your thoughts on the above article.

Was this information of use to you?  

Your Name (optional):
Your Email Address (optional):

Any other comments?

Foresight Update 49 - Table of Contents


Senior Associates Gathering

At the Foresight Senior Associate Gathering: "Exploring the Edges", April 26-28, 2002, Hotel Crowne Plaza Cabaña Palo Alto, Silicon Valley, California

Chip Morningstar, K. Eric Drexler, Neil Jacobstein

Senior Associate Chip Morningstar (left) and Neil Jacobstein of IMM (right) chat with Foresight Chairman K. Eric Drexler. (larger image)
Ray Kurzweil

Foresight Advisor Ray Kurzweil; and author of The Age of Spiritual Machines. (larger image)
Fred Turner

Fred Turner, "Poet Laureate of Nanotechnology," who entertained the Gathering with a reading of his poetry. (larger image)
Chris Peterson, Dean Tribble

Foresight President Chris Peterson (left) and Senior Associate Dean Tribble. (larger image)
Chuck Piercey, Stephan Spencer

Foresight Executive Director Chuck Piercey (right) chats with Senior Associate Stephan Spencer. (larger image)
Senior Associates sitting around table

Senior Associates enjoy great food, drink, and conversation during the Gatheringšs opening reception. (larger image)
Jurvetson, Ramachandran, Marty, Wu

VC Panel, left to right: Steve Jurvetson (Draper Fisher Jurvetson), Ajay Ramachandran (Ark Venture Partners), Alan Marty (JP Morgan Partners), and Norm Wu (Alameda Capital) gave their views on nanoscale technologies from a venture perspective. (larger image)
Dennis Rice, Ralph Merkle

Senior Associate Dennis Rice (left) and Foresight VP of Technology Assessment Ralph Merkle. (larger image)
Jurvetson surrounded by small group

A group chats with venture capitalist and Senior Associate Steve Jurvetson. (larger image)
Steve Vetter

Long-time Senior Associate Steve Vetter. (larger image)
Jim Von Ehr

Zyvex CEO Jim Von Ehr. (larger image)
David Friedman

Economist David Friedman; author of The Machinery of Freedom. (larger image)
Leon Fuerth

Leon Fuerth: former National Security Advisor to Vice President Gore. (larger image)
Gina Miller, Jim Lewis

Gina "Nanogirl" Miller and Foresight Webmaster Jim Lewis. (larger image)
Parker, Jacobstein, Drexler, Fuerth, and Friedman

A panel on "Can there be Security in a Nanotech World?" including (left to right) Patrick Parker, Neil Jacobstein, Eric Drexler, Leon Fuerth and David Friedman considered how to reach a nanotech world in which humans can have some security. (larger image)
Richard P. Terra, Marcia Seidler

Foresight Update editor Richard P. Terra and Foresight Events Coordinator Marcia Seidler. (larger image)
Pierluigi Zappacosta, Gayle Pergamit

Logitech founder Pierluigi Zappacosta and Unbounding the Future author Gayle Pergamit. (larger image)
  Paul Saffo

Institute for the Future Director Paul Saffo. (larger image)
Yakira Heyman, Gina Miller

Foresight Development Director Yakira Heyman and Gina Miller. (larger image)

Foresight would appreciate learning your thoughts on the above article.

Was this information of use to you?  

Your Name (optional):
Your Email Address (optional):

Any other comments?

Foresight Update 49 - Table of Contents | Page1 | Page2 | Page3 | Page4 | Page5

From Foresight Update 49, originally published August 2002.