Foresight at Pop!Tech 2003

Foresight President Christine Peterson's talk at Pop!Tech 2003, a conference held Oct. 16-19 in Camden, Maine, on "The Impact of Technology on People", presented Foresight's view on the "Sea Change" to be brought by technological transformation over the coming decades. She was quoted on the importance of investment in developing molecular nanotechnology (recently termed "zettatechnology") for the sake of curing diseases, safe-guarding security, protecting the environment, and easily traveling in space.

Writing at Tech Central Station on Nonlinear Thinking exemplified at Pop!Tech, Arnold Kling noted the inconsistent predictions made by some conference speakers:

Some of the nonlinear predictions made at Pop!tech 2003 were mutually inconsistent. For example, geologist Peter Ward sketched a number of catastrophic scenarios for planet earth, many of which were only likely to occur after hundreds or thousands of years. He said that we need to start worrying about these contingencies.

When I asked Christine Peterson about Ward's concerns, she scoffed, "In a thousand years, we won't need the earth." Her area of focus is nanotechnology, which she believes will produce remarkable results in the middle of the century. Where this leads is that over the next few hundred years we will develop the technology to engineer our environment and to travel in space.

Writing in the EE Times, Nicolas Mokhoff emphasized the "Sea Change" to be brought by progress in biotechnology: Experts say new biotech age looms, and then moved on to progress in nanotechnology.

Christine Peterson, president of the Foresight Institute, provided a progress report on nanotechnologies. "In military applications, nanotechnologies are being pursued to be able to control biological and chemical weapons," Peterson said.

In congressional testimony earlier this year, Peterson called for "a basic feasibility review in which molecular manufacturing's proponents and critics can present their technical cases to a group of unbiased physicists for analysis." She warned lawmakers that "nanotechnology research is already worldwide, and there is no guarantee that the U.S, an ally or other democracy will be the first to reach molecular manufacturing, and failure to do so would be militarily disastrous."

Summarizing Pop!Tech 2003 for Conferenza Premium Reports, Editor Shel Israel reported the progress in genomics and related biotechnologies that might eliminate aging, and then turned to nanotechnology:

"Get excited – and maybe a little nervous," warned Christine Peterson, co-founder and president of Foresight Institute , a nanotechnology educational organization, and co-author of "Unbounding the Future: The Nanotechnology Revolution. Peterson addressed the increasing ability of humans to build atomically precise machines at the molecular level, which she said would come into its own in about 20 years. She said that investment in the nanotechnology sector is coming back, with post-hype investors looking at companies who can produce bricks and mortar – "in this case, very tiny bricks and mortar," she said.

The importance, Peterson maintained, is to understand the difference between today and tomorrow. Today, we have atomic precision and relatively large devices. Tomorrow, the two will merge into minute, precise machines such as molecule-sized robot arms that could swim into the blood stream to make genetic repairs, clean the environment, provide food, and – oh, yes – build weapons.

"Abuse is a real issue," she admitted, to be shaped by who gets the technology first. That left us wondering which of nanotechnology's potentials will be selected by our own government for development – treatments of mass healing, or weapons of mass destruction.

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