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Foresight Update 23.33: Haptics, the Feynman Path, and AI - August 21, 2009

Note: Technical difficulties with Nanodot prevented making posts for a week. As a substitute for the missing week, Dr. Hall commends the following transcript to Nanodot readers:

Have a look at this conversation between Charlie Stross (Hugo-winning novelist) and Paul Krugman (Nobel-wining economist and NYT columnist):

In particular:

CS: "I'm talking 3D printers because its something we actually have here today. It is a very fallible, very crude approximation of the sort of things people expect of Eric Drexler-style magical mannered tech pixie dust where we wave a magic wand and manufacture anything. The difference is that 3D printers exist, you can write a check or use a credit card and buy one and it will make 3D objects out of plastic or bits of metal here and now. What are the effects on society going to be once we actually have machines that can basically build anything you can feed a blueprint into?"

(He meant, "feed them a blueprint of", but the point is clear.) What we have here is a clear, incremental, pathway to nanotech. 3-D printers are here now, as Charlie points out. At each stage, not only is there a simple figure of merit to measure the next stage — the range of products the printer can make — but each step along the pathway is clearly more valuable, making it a pathway that can pay for itself.

Discuss these news stories at and

Top News of the Week


There's a nice article over at the Singularity Hub that's a round-up of currently-available haptics devices. They seem primarily excited over the prospects of haptics in gaming, but there are two reasons we're interested in developments…

In this issue:

From Open Source Sensing:

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Organic vs machine evolution

A short comment on Drexler's paper Biological and Nanomechanical Systems: Contrasts in Evolutionary Capacity: He distinguishes two types of design, O-style (like organic) and M-style (like mechanical) systems. He points out that O-style systems are much more robust to incremental design modification, where M-style systems require coordinated changes that are much, much less likely to happen all at once in the course of natural variation.

Note, however, that it's not really necessary that the physical instantiation of the system not be M-style…

First machine ethics book

Over at Accelerating Future, Michael Annisimov has a pointer to a review of Moral Machines by Wallach and Allen. He makes one major factual mistake, though: MM is not the "first published book exclusively focused on Friendly AI" as he calls it.

The first book dealing exclusively with these issues was my Beyond AI, which came out a couple of years before MM. (2007, Prometheus)…

Machine Ethics / Moral Machines postscript

While we're on the subject of machine morality, here's a talk I gave a couple of years ago on the subject…

Back again

Nanodot appears to be back on the air again. Our outage was an aftereffect of the hack attack we had a few weeks ago. This, and the other lingering effect (de-listing of the main site from Google) are both not actual results of the hacking (which put code in that popped up ad windows) but of reactions to it — in the case of nanodot, too much security prevented us from logging in to post!

The lessons for future technology, one hopes, are clear…

—Nanodot posts by J. Storrs Hall

From Open Source Sensing:

Intuitive control, by you, of data sensed about you

David Kotz over at Dartmouth has been doing some interesting work on helping individuals control data sensed about us…

Separating raw sensor data from processed inferences

The sticky issue of who gets sensor data has been addressed by Guruduth Banavar and Abraham Bernstein in "Challenges in Design and Software Infrastructure for Ubiquitous Computing Applications" in the book Advances in Computers, Vol. 62, parts of which you can view at Amazon or Google Books…

New EFF whitepaper on responsible sensing technology

Randall Lucas brings to our attention a new whitepaper over at EFF that will sound familiar to readers of this site…

How long to keep unneeded sensor data? 10 minutes

A paper by researchers at University of Washington, Intel, and Dartmouth reports on Exploring Privacy Concerns about Personal Sensing. Some interesting data…

The main reason to care who gets sensing data about you

An ITU paper spells out the main reason to care who gets sensing data about individuals…

Electronic surveillance includes your physical location

Not everyone realizes that "electronic" surveillance can include not just what we think of as electronic information (email, etc.) but physical data as well. In an EFF article on the UK's half million intercepts of communications data in 2008 — which has no judicial review — this is explained…

Code of Fair Sensing Practices?

Simson Garfinkel gave a talk a while back that examined the "Code of Fair Information Practices", developed originally by a U.S. government task force and described thusly…

—Open Source Sensing posts by Christine Peterson

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August 20-22, 2009
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Christine Peterson will speak on life extension.
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Advancements in technologies such as nanotech, robotics, and biotech are promising to make major differences in our lives in the not-too-distant future, as the Industrial Revolution did to the agrarian world — to do for the physical world what the computer and Internet have done to the world of information.

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November 25, 2009
The Royal College of Physicians, London, UK

Organised crime, terrorism, civil conflict, and natural disasters are sadly commonplace in global society and have developed increasingly complex dimensions. To counter such threats, civil security and emergency response teams are looking towards new technologies that offer more sensitive, rapid, and accurate detection methods; that provide the means to neutralise or effectively deal with the outcomes of such incidents; and that provide greater protection to personnel.

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This conference will highlight the current, near-term, and future applications of nanotechnology and how they are transforming the way we manufacture products. Peer networking, information sharing, and technology exchange among the world's nanomanufacturing leaders will be a key feature of the event.

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