30 Years of Foresight
Timeline 1986 – 2016
Part I – The Ultimate Manufacturing Technology
Part II – Promoting Understanding, Building Community
Part III – A Roadmap
Part IVI – Moving Toward a World of Human Flourishing
Part I – The Ultimate Manufacturing Technology
A. Founding Vision
The Foresight Institute was founded on a vision set forth by Foresight’s co-founder K. Eric Drexler in Engines of Creation (Engines), published in the spring of 1986. Foresight was founded coincident with the publication of Engines to research and advance the theme of the book—a web of emerging revolutionary technologies that will present opportunities to vastly improve the human condition, and a web of strategies to secure those benefits while avoiding the problems that could come from careless or malicious misuse of those technologies, or from unintended consequences.
These emerging revolutionary technologies are often seen to comprise nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, and cognitive science. These are related to each other and to other important technologies like robotics and space exploration/settlement in complex ways. However, two capabilities hold central positions in this complex web: the evolution of nanotechnology into an advanced nanotechnology—variously termed molecular nanotechnology, molecular manufacturing, or productive nanosystems—that enables general purpose, high-throughput atomically precise manufacturing, and the evolution of computer science and machine learning to enable artificial general intelligence.
Engines elaborated a concept first proposed in 1959 by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman : use systems of microscopic machines to build complex, atomically precise products by, as Feynman put it, “maneuvering things atom by atom”. In a seminal technical paper published in 1981, Drexler outlined a path to implementing Feynman’s vision of “the structuring of matter to complex atomic specifications” through a molecular engineering program to redesign biology’s molecular machinery—protein molecules—to position reactive groups to atomic precision. He proposed that several generations of such molecular engineering would lead to “machines able to perform extremely general synthesis of three-dimensional molecular structures, thus permitting construction of devices and materials to complex atomic specifications.”
Engines incorporated Drexler’s 1981 proposal into a larger framework explaining the ability to arrange atoms as the the foundation of technology, and why we could be confident, based on general rules of how change happens and order emerges from chaos, about predictions of a technology that did not yet exist when we have only general ideas about paths to develop this technology. He then explored the opportunities and challenges the ability to arrange atoms would open, and strategies to survive the challenges and to use the opportunities to achieve a future in which human diversity could flourish.
Since the core idea is the central importance of a general ability to arrange atoms as we wish, the book begins with a vivid image of why the “ability to arrange atoms lies at the foundation of technology.” Two examples: atoms arranged one way give sand, but arranged another way give computer chips; atoms arranged one way give healthy tissue, but arranged another way give diseased tissue (or a cadaver). For two million years, since our ancestors began to make stone tools, atoms have been handled “in unruly herds”. By the time Engines was written, chemists had been rearranging atoms in small molecules for not much more than a century; biochemists and molecular biologists had been working with larger biomolecules for only a few decades.
Thus biology and biotechnology play at least three roles in Drexler’s proposals:
(1) The complex systems of molecular machines that underlie the miracle of life provide an existence proof that complex systems of molecular machines are possible and can build marvelous things.
(2) The often subtle differences between the arrangements of atoms in health and in disease point to an enormously important application of general technological means to arrange atoms as we wish. Cell repair machines, often called medical nanorobots, could perform surgery on the cellular level, or even on the molecular level, thus preventing or curing almost every disease and injury, including the currently inevitable disabilities of aging.
(3) A path exists through biotechnology to ever more capable molecular machines, leading to biomimetic machines made from other folding polymers, or other three-dimensional arrangements of atoms and functional groups, and culminating with molecular machines able to handle very reactive molecular fragments in vacuum with sub-atomic positioning accuracy to build ever more complex structures by adding atoms where they are wanted with the bonds required to lock them into the desired position.
B. From “assemblers” to “nanofactories”
Drexler originally termed these microscopic machines able to “build almost anything that the laws of nature allow to exist” assemblers. Assemblers able to build copies of themselves were called “replicators”, and machines able to disassemble complex structures to determine how the constituent atoms were arranged were named “disassemblers”. Assemblers would also be able to build powerful microscopic mechanical computers, named “nanocomputers”. Building macroscopic objects with swarms of assemblers invoked images of swarms of microbes. Such images arose naturally from using biology as an existence proof, and from mimicking biology to guide the design of early stage molecular machines.
However subsequent analysis by Drexler and others revealed that microscopic replicating assemblers were far from the most efficient method of implementing atomically precise manufacturing. Further, the picture that Drexler himself painted in Engines of the destruction such swarms of virtually indestructible synthetic microbes might cause (the “gray goo problem”) proved to be a major impediment to many scientists taking Drexler’s proposal seriously. Scientists did not want to be expected to build medical miracle machines they could not yet see a way to build, nor blamed for building dangers they considered impossible.
Thus Drexler’s concept of the ultimate implementation of nanotechnology changed from swarms of microscopic cooperating assemblers to a desktop apparatus about the size of a microwave oven that would convert inputs of pure industrial chemicals into final consumer products of atomically precise patterns of diamond and sapphire. Other robotic machinery would then assemble the smallest manufactured components into subsystems and products of any needed size.
C. From popular science to planning paths forward
Engines was a work of popular science. Six years after Engines appeared, Drexler published his MIT Ph.D. thesis, the first in the new field he had by then named “molecular nanotechnology”, as the book Nanosystems: Molecular Machinery, Manufacturing, and Computation (WIley, 1992), a technical work in a new field of science and engineering. In this work, he justified the emergence of molecular nanotechnology, not merely by the existence proof provided by biology, but by what the known laws of physics and extrapolations from known chemistry, both experimental and computational, tell us about the potential properties of systems of molecular machines.
Paths forward from current laboratory science to advanced nanotechnology were identified. These were largely based on biotechnology and chemistry, sometimes in combination with scanning probe microscopy and other surface physics tools. Other researchers envisioned paths forward based upon building small atomically precise systems by direct manipulation with scanning probe microscopes. In considering various paths forward from current and incremental improvements of nanotechnology, special attention was paid to the differences between curiosity-driven scientific research and large, organized engineering projects aimed at achieving specific grand goals. Drexler christened the new field “exploratory engineering”, in which the goal was to explore manufacturing possibilities not currently known to engineering, constrained only by known natural law.
Drexler anticipated many of the challenges Foresight encountered during the first two decades after Engines was published, and pointed in Engines itself to important features of the way forward. He explained the principles that govern change and the emergence of order: the generation of variations that are then tested against an array of constraints and requirements. He described how these principles explain the emergence of order in molecules, organisms, and minds, and how these same principles can be used to explain the design process that leads to the evolution of technologies. Commercial and military competition will ensure that the most powerful technologies eventually emerge.
D. Synergies and strategies
These principles of change form the foundation of strategies to deal with the potential problems that may accompany powerful technologies. For example, anti-technology initiatives are not likely to prevent abuse of powerful technologies because local prohibitions are unlikely to block advances in commercial and military technology. They would simply drive the technology underground or offshore.
These principles allow us to have some confidence in our expectations of future technologies as far as they rest upon engineering innovations within the boundaries of known science. We can be confident that commercially and militarily important technologies will evolve to the limits set by physical law, although we cannot predict confidently how, when, and at what cost this will happen, because there are too many variables, many rooted in human choices. Thus we can separate wild, implausible-sounding ideas that are possible and ultimately likely, from wild, implausible-sounding ideas that are in fact nonsensical.
Drexler further explained how deep differences in the methods and goals of science and engineering combine to create a crucial blindspot in our ability to imagine the future, and how this gap can be filled. Few scientists or engineers are interested in future engineering developments that are firmly based upon current scientific knowledge but cannot be manufactured with current fabrication tools. A large part of Foresight’s mission over the past 30 years has been drawing attention to what advanced nanotechnology that we can begin to design today will enable once we learn how to manufacture with atomic precision. These efforts fall under the banner of “exploratory engineering” cited above.
E. Abundance, automated design, space, and medicine
In considering the implications of general purpose, high-throughput atomically precise manufacturing, Drexler first explores how inexpensive, non-polluting assemblers/nanofactories will create a world of unprecedented abundance, transforming the world economy. Manufacturing with atomic precision means building by adding reactive molecular fragments, each comprising a precisely specified small group of atoms held in 3D space by a specified arrangement of chemical bonds so that it links to the workpiece in a predetermined position and orientation. One very important insight is that factories based on molecular machine systems building with atomic precision will have one very important advantage compared to large robot-filled factories using conventional technology: ultimately, the parts they will use are atoms, and atoms come ready made, identical, and perfect.
Advances in manufacturing technology will not occur in a vacuum; rather they will occur in a world in which progress in a number of technologies is accelerating, so the usual methodology of isolating one trend for analysis is likely to mislead. Drexler spotlights a particularly important synergy between the ability to place atoms where you want them and the ability to know what arrangements of atoms will be useful, leading him to consider progress in artificial intelligence. Drexler’s interest here is in “Engines of Design”—machine intelligence to automate scientific inquiry and engineering design. The possibility and implications of machines achieving awareness or consciousness are left as open questions.
The combination of atomically precise manufacturing and automated engineering design will enable a number of applications that sounded fantastic in 1986, and still do. These technologies will first of all enable inexpensive access to space, leading to abundant low cost resources, and a vast expansion of habitats for humanity. They will revolutionize medicine, banishing disease and rendering aging an option that can be either chosen or postponed indefinitely. The prospect of future medicine providing cures for those terminally ill today provides a rationale for cryopreservation of those dying today.
F. Evaluating claims, meeting challenges
Because the fruits of high-throughput atomically precise manufacturing combined with automated scientific inquiry and automated engineering design enabled by artificial general intelligence seem so miraculous, Drexler emphasized “mental immune systems”. These are needed to distinguish what sounds like science fiction but is in fact a credible extrapolation to be taken seriously, from what is in fact fantasy and nonsense.
Technologies can only be improved up to the limits established by the laws of physics. Our scientific understanding of atoms and molecules, planets, and stars is largely complete, so it seems unlikely that our understanding of the laws relevant to atoms and materials will change much. Whatever the true laws are, they impose limits to the properties of materials and the machines that can be built from them. Some popular proposals are bogus because they ignore the real limits imposed by the laws of nature. Other claims that proposed technologies would be impossible are bogus because some wish to avoid dealing with the challenges accelerating technologies will force upon us.
Although emerging technologies can bring seeming miracles, they could also lead to serious or even fatal consequences through accidents brought about by reckless development, through malicious abuse, through conflict resulting from aggressive competition leading to an arms race, or in general through economic or political disruption. They could also be powerful instruments of oppression in the hands of oppressive governments.
Drexler therefore describes strategies to avoid the threats progress could bring. These strategies include sealed labs for possibly dangerous experiments, and assemblers or nanofactories limited to making approved products. Transparent and open development of the core technology by a large consortium could decrease suspicion that the technology is being prepared for use in military aggression. Fact forums that use due process and impartial but knowledgeable juries could establish the scientific facts upon which rational policy should be based. A network of knowledge (hypertext publishing system) would make it easier to determine which arguments have been decisively refuted, which have been buttressed by additional evidence, and which have gained credibility through the absence of effective criticism.
Part II – Promoting Understanding, Building Community
A. Publications & meetings
Foresight has been working since 1986 to research and advance the vision of emerging technologies painted in Engines. One part of that process was the publication in 1991 of a second book on nanotechnology: Unbounding the Future: the Nanotechnology Revolution, by Eric Drexler and Chris Peterson, with Gayle Pergamit. William Morrow and Company, Inc., New York. The book is available on Foresight’s legacy web site in its entirety and combines basic explanations of nanotechnology with a diverse set of scenarios to illustrate possibilities in easily understandable terms. Community building progressed through a series of newsletters and briefing documents.
These writings were supplemented through presentations and research symposiums. One of the earliest of these was held at MIT in January 1987. Another was held in Seattle in February 1989, and is documented in proceedings available free online. Such efforts set the stage for the First Foresight Conference on Nanotechnology, held in Palo Alto in October, 1989. This research conference brought together scientists in a number of fields considered to be on the path to advanced nanotechnology (control of solid state structure, imaging and positioning atoms, protein design, molecular modeling, molecular electronics) and in related fields.
A second technical conference (Toward Molecular Control) followed in November, 1991. As with the first conference, this was an invitation-only event to bring together top researchers to make progress toward molecular control, especially to make contact with potential research collaborators outside their own field.
Foresight’s third conference, the First General Conference on Nanotechnology held in November of 1992, had a different focus. A broader community of entrepreneurs, policymakers, students, and investors was gathered from three continents to learn about the development status and potential of molecular nanotechnology.
To further promote these new technological goals that were established at the conferences, the proceedings of both the first technical conference and the First General Conference were published in book form:
Prospects in Nanotechnology: Toward Molecular Manufacturing. Edited by Markus Krummenacker and James Lewis (Hardbound, xviii + 297 pages. Includes bibliographic references and index. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.: New York, Chichester, Brisbane, Toronto, and Singapore. 1995)
Seventeen technical conferences followed, from “Computer-Aided Design of Molecular Systems” held in October of 1993 to “The Integration Conference” held in February 2014. The 1993 conference was preceded by a day-long tutorial, and the conference proceedings were published as a special issue of the journal Nanotechnology, published by the Institute of Physics. The practice of preceding the conference with a day of tutorials to facilitate researchers becoming familiar with other fields that might become relevant to their fields through pursuit of the common goal of atomically precise manufacturing became a common practice for Foresight Technical Conferences during the following decade. Conferences also often included arrangements to publish full papers developed from conference presentations in a special journal issue. More recently, conference formats have evolved to consider all conference presentations confidential to encourage speakers to present and discuss unpublished results.
The First General Conference on Nanotechnology was followed by a series of Gatherings and Vision Weekends designed for Senior Associates, members who made a five-year commitment to support Foresight. These annual events were small, intense meetings designed to give Senior Associates the information and contacts needed to further their goals involving nanotechnology and molecular manufacturing: technical, academic, personal, and business goals.
One early Senior Associate Gathering, held in November of 1995, tackled accomplishing real work during the meeting. “Areas to be tackled include nanotechnology technical development paths, uploading all Foresight nanotechnology information onto the World Wide Web (with new links), Web enhancement back links and filtering, computer security issues (important for safe development of nanotechnology), building a nanotechnology database, and analysis of nanotechnology-oriented fiction.”
The Gathering for May of 1999 was billed as a “Group Genius” Weekend, Foresight’s 1st Brainstorming-Planning-Actionfest & NanoSchmoozathon for 200 of the most forward-looking minds on the planet — leaders and visionaries in emerging technologies, freedom, and dynamic change. This was Foresight’s first experiment with the “Design Shop” process for group genius. The Vision Weekend held in November of 2007 focused on NanoBioInfoCognoSocioPhysical technologies & how to benefit from them all. The November 2008 Vision Weekend “Convergence08” continued the “Unconference” theme and covered the convergence of Nanotech, Biotech, Cogitech, and Infotech.
One result of the First General Conference on Nanotechnology was the establishment of the Foresight Institute Feynman Prizes given to researchers whose recent work have most advanced the achievement of Feynman’s goal for nanotechnology: the construction of atomically-precise products through the use of molecular machine systems. The first Feynman Prize was awarded at the Third Foresight Research Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology: Computer-Aided Design of Molecular Systems. It was funded by Foresight members Marc Arnold and Ted Kaehler and awarded to Charles Musgrave, a Ph.D. candidate in chemistry at the California Institute of Technology, for his work on modeling a hydrogen abstraction tool useful in nanotechnology. The first Feynman Prize awarded was thus for an accomplishment in theoretical science.
The second Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology was awarded in 1995 during the fourth Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology to Nadrian C. Seeman, Ph.D., chemistry professor at New York University, for developing ways to construct three-dimensional structures, including cubes and more complex polyhedra, from synthesized DNA molecules. The second Feynman Prize awarded was thus for an accomplishment in experimental science, work that also founded the field of structural DNA nanotechnology. Separate Feynman Prizes for both Theory and Experiment have been awarded every year since 1997, the most recent being the 2016 prizes awarded October 1, 2016, at Foresight’s workshop Artificial Intelligence For Scientific Progress: Bringing Digital Control to Physical Matter.
The as of yet unclaimed $250,000 incentive Feynman Grand Prize was established in 1996 and will be awarded to the first team who designs, constructs, and demonstrates both a functional nano-scale robotic arm and a functional nano-scale computing device with specified features.
Funds for the Feynman Grand Prize were donated by two entrepreneurs associated with Foresight Institute: James R. Von Ehr II, formerly founder of Altsys Corporation, and vice president at Macromedia, and currently CEO and Founder of Zyvex Labs and Founder and Chairman of hte Baord of Zyvex Technologies; Marc Arnold, chief executive officer of Angel Technologies, a St. Louis-based wireless telecommunication company.
Over the past 30 years Foresight has awarded prizes in three additional categories. The Foresight Distinguished Student Award was established in 1997 and is given to a college undergraduate or graduate student whose work is notable in the field of nanotechnology. It has been awarded 15 times from 1997 through 2016.
The Foresight Prize in Communication recognizes outstanding journalistic or other communication endeavors that lead to a better public understanding of advanced nanotechnology. It was awarded eight times from 2000 through 2007.
The Foresight Institute Government Prize was awarded once, so far, in 2005 to a government official who has used the influence of their office to advance beneficial nanotechnology and encourage the funding of molecular nanotechnology research.
Lectures by Foresight principals from the past 15 years are listed on the legacy website here and here. Starting in 2005, Foresight instituted a weekly email newsletter. To report progress along various paths toward atomically precise manufacturing and other Foresight goals, Foresight established the blog Nanodot in May of 2000. The first post reported “Coding a Transhuman AI 2.0a published”. This paper “discusses how to build a general intelligence, along with the specific issues associated with creating a self-modifying or “seed” AI (one that can understand and rewrite its own source code).” A recent 2016 post shares that “Nobel Prize in Chemistry recognizes molecular machines” and reports that Sir J. Fraser Stoddart, winner of the 2007 Foresight Feynman Prize for Experiment, shares the 2016 Chemistry Nobel Prize for the design and synthesis of molecular machines. This happened 9 years after he was awarded Foresight Institute’s Feynman Prize in 2007.
C. Skepticism and Opposition
As early as November of 1987 Foresight was already defending its conception of nanotechnology. A British trade journal reported funding for nanotechnology in Britain, defined as “the manufacture and measurement of devices and products where dimensions or tolerances are in the range 0.1 to 100 nm…”. This definition was much broader than manufacturing with atomic precision as originally envisioned by the pioneers Feynman and Drexler. The broader definition was basically the definition that would be adopted by the US National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) a decade later. During the intervening decade progress in a number of technologies, including a 1988 milestone in de novo protein engineering and in 1989 using a scanning tunneling microscope to arrange 35 xenon atoms into the IBM logo, eventually led to the US NNI and similar programs in other countries.
How concern about dangers of advanced nanotechnology conspired to push the Feynman-Drexler view of advanced nanotechnology out of the US NNI is described by Drexler in a 2004 publication here and here. Another paper published in 2004 and written by Chris Phoenix and Eric Drexler described why autonomous self-replicating nanomachines (i.e., assemblers) were not necessary to implement advanced nanotechnology, and why nanofactories were both more useful and inherently safer. A 2003 debate on the NNI between Drexler and Nobel laureate chemist Richard Smalley was covered by Foresight Update. Additional discussion of the debate is here, here and here.
As interest in nanotechnology grew in the years following Foresight’s founding, disputes over just what nanotechnology entailed also grew. Following the arguments he put forth in Engines about hypertext publishing systems, Drexler called in June 1995 for the enhancement of the then rapidly spreading World Wide Web (WWW) to provide the added functionality necessary for a true hypertext publishing system for conducting public technical arguments.
This call for enhancing the WWW came just a few months after a column (February, 1995) in which progress during the first decade of Foresight’s existence in the technology itself and also in understanding the technology was discussed.
An important part of Foresight’s early work was correcting public and media misunderstanding of nanotechnology of the sort that Foresight was advocating. A prominent example of that effort arose from an article that Scientific American published in April of 1996 about the 4th Foresight Conference on molecular nanotechnology, which had been held the previous November, in which the writer questioned work in molecular nanotechnology without offering any technical criticism of the work. This article elicited a response from Foresight and ignited an extended debate, that in the end provided a concrete instance of the value of WWW discussions as had been anticipated in Drexler’s article on “Hypertext Publishing and the Evolution of Knowledge”. Other exchanges in the discussion of the feasibility of molecular manufacturing are listed here.
While defending the feasibility of molecular manufacturing and exploring paths from current research to that goal, Foresight also worked with the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing from June 2000 through April 2006 to assemble guidelines for responsible development of nanotechnology. Foresight has also addressed policy questions through a series of white papers and policy briefs.
Although Foresight’s primary concern has always been the attainment and consequences of atomically precise manufacturing, Foresight has also been concerned to see that near term progress in incremental nanotechnology is used to the best advantage to meet critical human needs: the Foresight Nanotechnology Challenges. From 2005 through 2008 a weekly news digest followed progress in the application of incremental nanotechnology to progress in clean energy, clean water, improving health and longevity, healing and preserving the environment, maximizing productivity of agriculture, making information technology available to all, and enabling space development.
Part III – A Roadmap
The lack of a clear development path from current nanoscience and incremental nanotechnology to advanced nanotechnology was, by 2005, identified as a major challenge for advocates of advanced nanotechnology and also a major impediment to serious consideration of the social, economic, and political challenges that advanced nanotechnology will bring. To address this lack, Foresight partnered from 2005 through 2007 with Battelle and the Waitt Family Foundation to produce a roadmap from current capabilities to advanced systems.
From this document, which provided background for the roadmapping process:
Foresight sees the creation of technical and policy roadmaps as key to accomplishing a number of objectives in the nanotechnology field. Roadmaps help to coordinate the thinking and activity of key stakeholders including governments, corporations, research institutions, policy professionals, investors, educators and the media. They provide a framework for articulating the pathways and steps which must be taken to progress from the present state of development to a desired future goal. They illuminate what we should be focusing on today and provide an important basis for defining current research and commercialization agendas. The Roadmaps link on the Resources page provides examples of roadmaps from several industries:
Foresight will be creating our own roadmaps, often in conjunction with partners, as well as highlighting roadmaps developed by other groups that are related to nanotechnology.
The first roadmap to be developed by Foresight will be entitled Technology Roadmap for Productive Nanosystems. Both biological examples and analyses based on molecular physics indicate that productive molecular machine systems can enable economical, large-scale fabrication of products built with atomic precision. However, a daunting implementation gap separates the nanostructures of today from the complex productive nanosystems of the future. How can this gap be narrowed and eventually closed? The development of adequate tools to build these systems will require several intermediate stages, each building on the results of the previous stage. Biopolymers (DNA, protein) can provide a basis for the design and fabrication of atomically-precise, self-assembling composite structures — they can form molecular components that bind and organize diverse nanostructures (nanotubes, macromolecules) to form molecular machine systems. This engineering capability will enable the design and fabrication of an initial generation of productive nanosystems. These in turn can be used to build non-biomolecular self-assembling structures, including a more advanced generation of productive nanosystems. Further steps can lead from the production of 1-dimensional polymers to 2- and 3-dimensional covalent structures, from self-assembly to simpler, mechanical construction methods, and from microscopic systems to desktop-scale factories.
This roadmap aims to provide guidance regarding the challenges and opportunities for productive nanosystems, describing strategic objectives for current research and their relationship to long-term goals for advanced nanotechnology. Its scope includes:
Current capabilities in design, modeling, fabrication, and testing
Overall readiness for developing next-generation productive nanosystems
Strategies for developing more advanced systems
Potential products of systems at successive levels of development
Policy issues raised by productive nanosystems
“Productive Nanosystems: A Technology Roadmap” was released by the Battelle Memorial Institute and Foresight Nanotech Institute to the attendees of the conference “Productive Nanosystems: Launching the Technology Roadmap”, held October 9-10, 2007, and is available for downloading as two PDF files:
Productive Nanosystems: A Technology Roadmap (198 pages, 2.4 MB PDF)
Working Group Proceedings (210 pages, 12.7 MB PDF)
The roadmap was the work of a unique, cross-disciplinary process that involved several dozen participants from several dozen organizations. The work was “Supported through grants to the Foresight Nanotech Institute by the Waitt Family Foundation (founding sponsor) and Sun Microsystems, with direct support from Nanorex, Zyvex Labs, and Synchrona. Working group meetings [were] hosted by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Brookhaven National Laboratory, and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, in cooperation with Battelle Memorial Institute.”
The roadmap points the way for strategic research initiatives to deliver on the promise of atomically precise technologies (APT), which “hold the potential to meet many of the greatest global challenges, bringing revolutions in science, medicine, energy, and industry.” It represents the “first attempt to map out the R&D pathways across multiple disciplines to achieve atomically precise manufacturing.” This is a very substantial document divided into three main parts. The road map proper provides the big picture and policy recommendations, the second part explores contributing technologies in more detail, and the third presents a set of papers, extended abstracts, and personal perspectives provided by the participants in the Roadmap process.
Partial coverage of the Conference and the Roadmap in the last Foresight Update was supplemented by Chris Phoenix live blogging the conference in the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology blog. An initial effort to follow research directly related to the roadmap identified research from someone who later won a Feynman Prize (Leonhard Grill, 2011 Experimental Category). A further effort has been made over the years since to cover the most relevant technical contributions in Nanodot posts.
Part IVI – Moving Toward a World of Human Flourishing
On the occasion of a Foresight Conference (Foresight 2010: the Synergy of Molecular Manufacturing and AGI that came 20 years and 3 months after Foresight’s first Conference, then-Foresight President J Storrs Hall looked back on 20 years of progress toward the 1989 vision of advanced nanotechnology:
The neat, clear vision of nanotechnology we had in 1989 rested on two key aspects that would make it a transformative, rather than merely an evolutionary, technology:
The ability to construct and observe at the atomic scale, and the construction of machines at that scale
These machines could be production machinery for more machines, shortening capital formation times and increasing economic growth rates
The reality of nanotechnology is shaping up differently from the neat visions of those times, but shaping up it is…
That 2010 Conference focused on the synergy between atomically precise manufacturing and artificial general intelligence, a synergy that Drexler had emphasized 24 years earlier in Engines and Foresight’s founding.
Since 2010 Foresight has held multiple Conferences and participated in several Silicon Valley events devoted to emerging technologies:
25th Anniversary Reunion Conference, June 2011
“Illuminating Atomic Precision“, January 2013
“The Integration Conference”, February 2014
B.R.AI.N.S salon on Human Biology and Freedom, April 2014
Building biological molecular machines as an open source path to advanced nanotechnology
Bench to Market: Idea Evaluation and Commercialization for Product-market Fit
Using the unique Design Shop brainstorming process that Foresight had first adapted for its “Group Genius” May 1999 Senior Associates Vision Weekend, Foresight began a series of small, highly interactive 2-1/2 day meetings focused on long-term prospects for revolutionary technologies:
Directed/Programmable Matter for Energy Workshop, September 2014
Atomic Precision for Medical Applications Workshop, May 2015
Breakthrough Technologies for Energy Workshop, May 2016
Artificial Intelligence For Scientific Progress Workshop, September, 2016
The Great Debates: Controversies in Technology and our Future, November, 2016
Artificial Intelligence for Atomic Precision Workshop, May, 2017
Building Better Futures on the Blockchain, May 2017
In Conversation with David Brin, June, 2017
The Next Frontier Symposium: Blockchain Meets Object-Capabilities
The year 2017 additionally saw the launch of the Foresight Fellowship program to support researchers, scientists, inventors, and innovators who work on technology whose massive potential is undervalued, who care about improving the state of the world and who have the courage to follow their own path.