Foresight Update 11 (page 4)
A publication of the Foresight Institute
A documentary on nanotechnology entitled "Little by Little" has
won the Prix du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. Produced by
David Kennard and others at InCA for the Equinox series on Channel 4 in
England, the program was honored at the 7th International Television Science
Broadcast Festival in Paris last October, sponsored by the Centre National
de la Recherche Scientifique and the Agence Jules Verne. An international
jury chaired by the Dean of the Faculty of Education Science at Tokyo University
awarded the prizes. The award cited the program "because it shows how
the dreams of one scientist can create effervescence in worlds as separated
from one another as chemistry, biology, and technology."
The February 7 issue of Nature featured a short but striking
article on nanotechnology in Japan (see
article in this issue). The March-April issue of The Futurist
included a nanotechnology article, as did the January-February issue of
Canada's Equinox magazine. The New Scientist ran
a review of the British edition of Engines
of Creation last fall (1Sep90).
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A Choice of Conferences
Foresight supporters interested in nanotechnology have a variety of meetings
to consider attending this year. Each puts a different emphasis on the topic:
The last is the focus of the Second Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology,
discussed elsewhere in this issue.
- advocacy of speedy development
- environmental issues and applications
- technical approaches.
Space Development Conference
The space development community has long been familiar with the concept
of nanotechnology: one of the first public talks on the topic was given
at the 1982 Space Development Conference. This year's meeting will be held
in San Antonio on May 22-27, with the Foresight Institute as a cosponsor.
On the afternoon of Saturday, May 25, Foresight president Eric Drexler will
speak on the relevance of nanotechnology to the goal of space development.
Hardware difficulties have plagued both government and private space efforts;
we need materials and vehicles which are both more reliable and less expensive.
The best prospect for major advances in these areas is molecular manufacturing.
The next day will feature a workshop focusing on the next steps: what those
present can do to advance the field. The National Space Society--the primary
sponsor of the meeting along with the Southwest Research Institute--is part
of a family of pro-space groups, some of which have substantial experience
in influencing government policy and spending. (This is part of the reason
that NASA's budget is larger than that of the National Science Foundation.)
The workshop will explore how this expertise could be used to further nanotechnology
R&D, and how the individuals present can help make it happen.
In addition to the talk and workshop, we will have a table at which Foresight
supporters can gather to share information and make contacts. We are looking
for volunteers to staff this table, especially on Sunday morning and afternoon.
If you would like to help, please notify the Foresight office.
Everyone interested in speeding nanotechnology development is urged to come
to the conference and help work out a strategy. All Foresight directors
will be attending the weekend segment of the meeting; this is your chance
to speak with them and other Foresight supporters. Prior to May 1, registration
is only $70 for those affiliated with Foresight; afterward the cost is $80.
The student rate is $50. See the Upcoming
Events list in this issue for more details.
The Ecotech conference being held November 14-17 in Monterey, California,
will explore ways in which technology can be used to improve the environment.
As the conference brochure asks: "How can the resources, creativity,
and ingenuity of technology industries by applied to solving the world's
most pressing social and environmental problems?" The potential of
nanotechnology for clean manufacturing and for repairing damage to the biosphere
will be discussed in a talk by Eric Drexler and in a later workshop, along
with observations regarding the potential for abuse. The Foresight Institute
is a participating organization in Ecotech, along with groups ranging from
Computing Professionals for Social Responsibility, Utne Reader, and Econet
to Apple Computer and Global Business Network.
Since it is they who will eventually implement clean methods of production,
attendees from the fields of investment, business, and industry are being
targeted, as well as scientists, technologists, and policy makers. Based
on the registration fee ($595) we conclude that the meeting is designed
for decision makers and professionals in relevant fields, rather than for
grassroots environmental activists. (Foresight hopes to sponsor or cosponsor
an activist-oriented meeting in the future.)
More details on the meeting will be announced as they become available.
Meanwhile, mark your calendars if you think there's a chance you may be
able to attend. But don't wait too long to register: attendance is limited
to 450 people, and interest in the meeting is expected to be intense. See
the Upcoming Events list in this
issue for details.
Table of Contents - Foresight
The Second Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology will be held
on November 7-9, 1991, in Palo Alto, California. Taking the theme "Toward
Molecular Control," it is sponsored by the Foresight Institute, Stanford
University's Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and University
of Tokyo's Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology. The conference
is an invitational meeting of scientists and technologists working in fields
leading toward molecular nanotechnology: thorough three-dimensional structural
control of materials and devices at the molecular level. The conference
will cover topics relevant to the pursuit of molecular control, drawing
from fields such as:
Developments in these fields are converging, opening opportunities for fruitful
collaboration in developing new instruments, devices, and capabilities.
- physics (e.g. proximal probes such as the STM and AFM)
- chemistry (e.g. molecular recognition)
- biochemistry (e.g. protein design)
- materials science and engineering
- computer science (e.g. molecular modeling, system design issues)
- mechanical engineering
A major objective will be to provide participants with the information and
contacts they need to make progress toward molecular control. Since these
efforts frequently cross disciplinary boundaries, the meeting will be organized
to help attendees make contact with potential research collaborators outside
their own field. The last day of the conference will be devoted to workshop-style
discussion of the approaches of greatest interest to those present. Throughout
the meeting there will be demonstrations by leading vendors of products
useful in the pursuit of molecular control, including molecular modeling
software and hardware, and proximal probe systems.
- describe the current state of the art in techniques and tools for
- suggest experiments and approaches for extending molecular control;
- propose targets for near-term research and development.
Call for Papers
Contributions on relevant topics are solicited for presentation in lecture
or poster format. Potential contributors are asked to submit an abstract
(200-400 words), including names, addresses, telephone and fax numbers of
the author(s), and an indication of whether oral or poster presentation
is preferred. Abstracts of both oral and poster papers will be available
to attendees at the meeting, and papers of both kinds will be reviewed for
publication. In choosing papers, priority will be given to (1) cogent descriptions
of the state of the art in techniques relevant to the construction of complex
molecular systems, (2) well-grounded proposals for interdisciplinary efforts
which, if funded and pursued, could substantially advance the state of the
art, and (3) reports of recent relevant research.
Proceedings of the conference will be refereed and published in a special
issue of the international journal Nanotechnology, published
by the Institute of Physics.
Abstracts due April 30, 1991
Notification of acceptance May 15, 1991
Manuscripts due November 7, 1991
Due to space limitations, participation at the conference is by invitation.
Abstracts, requests for invitations, and requests for additional information
should be directed to the Foresight Institute, PO Box 61058, Palo Alto,
CA 94306, USA. Tel 415-324-2490; fax 415-948-5649; electronic mail: email@example.com.
Table of Contents - Foresight
More Market-Based Foresight
Many people wrote to offer friendly criticism of Robin Hanson's "Market-Based
Foresight" proposal, which we published in a previous issue (Foresight
Update 10). Here he responds to a few such comments:
"One of the problems with your idea, as I see it, is
that it allows a way for special interests to try to buy public policy decisions.
Suppose the government is thinking about funding projects for the development
of new energy sources, and wants to create a market for the question of
whether or not (say) cheap fusion will be available within 10 years. The
gas/electricity industry then has a vested interest in heavily buying up
negative opinions of the issue, since such a program would later cut into
their profits. They thus have the motive and means (more money than others
are willing to invest, even if the odds are good) to...create a self-fulfilling
All in all, a very intriguing proposal."
Hanson: Yes, it would be dangerous to decide to fund fusion
based on bets about whether fusion power will be cheap in 10 years, since
this will in part depend on whether fusion research is funded now. But a
slight variation can help us to avoid such self-reinforcing prophesies.
We could bet on the future price of fusion power conditional on the level
of funding between now and then. (A conditional bet is "called off"
if the condition is not met.) There would be different bets about different
possible funding levels, and funders might decide to fund fusion only if
the market predicted that the results with funding were sufficiently better
than the results without funding.
Carnegie Mellon University
The problem of harmful self-fulfilling prophecies (also called "moral
hazard") is present but tolerable in most markets. Anyone can buy stock,
though they might sell short the stock of some aspirin maker and then poison
their capsules. Moral hazard can be avoided entirely if we stick to bets
about unchangeable facts of nature, like the mass of the electron neutrino.
"It seems that in many cases neither a deadline nor
a jury will be necessary. If the market is now more convinced than before
that some statement is true, it is by itself an opportunity for the statement's
supporters to benefit from their bets, and no official verifications are
needed....One can also be allowed to withdraw all or a part of his stake
at any time by [an equivalent of] betting against himself according to the
current odds, and then taking away the money he has put for both sides--without
affecting anyone else's interests. The presence of a jury is costly, complicates
the situation, is unnecessary when the jury agrees with the market's opinion,
and creates conflicts and public discontent when it doesn't. This mechanism
by itself will hardly be sufficient for education on, or funding of, any
given subject, and will have to be carefully integrated with other existing
methods of work and coordinational entities.
But [your proposal] is a promising idea, and in my opinion is well worth
Hanson: We do want to avoid the various costs of using
judges that you mention, though if we do away with judges completely I fear
a strategic bargaining game. A well financed person or group might ignore
the evidence and just push the price on some claim in some direction and
spend what it takes to hold it there. This strategy pays off if other bettors
can't or won't hold out as long, and hence quit at a loss. A compromise
is to create incentives for players to "settle out of court,"
so that in the absence of strategic behavior judges are not needed. For
example, we might set the official judging date to be long after we expect
the steady accumulation of evidence to naturally resolve the issue.
Yes, betting markets are not a panacea, and will need to co-exist with other
"...the long-term nature of such bets' would necessarily
require a group of similarly long-term investors. After all, the opportunity
costs of such a bet would be significant, if one had to wait five years
with funds in escrow for its resolution. Even longer-term bets would be
I think your model is intriguing, and could solve many of the problems with
today's 'court advisor' model of futurism."
Hanson: Yes, there are problems with long-term investments,
though not the ones usually imagined. Markets in bets that won't be officially
settled for several decades can still have liquid markets which allow investors
to enter or leave at any time, can offer as high an average rate of return
as the stock market, and can offer daily price fluctuations similar to those
in the stock market. The real long-term investment problem is again that
some investors may think it would take the market too long time to come
to its senses and reward their wise purchase, and so they don't bother to
fight the crowd. All markets face this problem, allowing speculative bubbles
to persist. So, yes, price movements over longer time scales may be less
rational. But it's not clear that any alternative funding or consensus institution
deals with this problem any better.
Most people react to my proposal by saying "interesting, but here are
some problems." This was my reaction too, and most of my efforts have
centered around identifying such problems and finding ways to deal with
Correction: In the article I claimed that "over the
last six months alone, there is less than a one in 1010 chance
of someone randomly winning [Piers Carbyn's] 25 bets a month at his over-than-80%
success rate." The actual chance depends on how independent the bets
in a single month are, and (now using the last fifteen months of data) is
somewhere between one in 200 (total dependence) and one in 1060
researches artificial intelligence and Bayesian statistics at NASA Ames,
has master's degrees in physics and philosophy of science, and has done
substantial work on hypertext publishing. To receive his longer paper on
the above topic, send us a self-addressed stamped envelope (with 45 cents
postage within the U.S.), or send electronic mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Table of Contents - Foresight
Markets inside Computers
The Agorics Project is building working markets operating entirely as object-oriented
computer software, to test theories on how markets evolve. Based at the
Center for the Study of Market
Processes at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, the effort
was originally inspired by a series
of three papers written by Mark
S. Miller and K. Eric Drexler. A
few copies of these papers, donated by Mark Miller, are still available
from Foresight; within the U.S., please send a large, self-addressed envelope
with $2.36 postage. (Outside the U.S., try to include a donation that will
roughly cover our postage costs.) Miller now serves as Co-director of the
project, along with Prof.
Don Lavoie. Graduate students aiding the project include Howard Baetjer,
Kevin Lacobie, and Bill Tulloh. The project is now seeking additional funds
to expand its work.
Those interested in the project can read about it in the Center's free newsletter,
Praxis. Contact the Center at 703-323-3483, or online at email@example.com
(BITNET) or firstname.lastname@example.org. For the full story behind the Agorics
Project, request the Spring 1990 issue of the Center's journal Market
Process. In addition to two articles on evolutionary economics, this
issue contains an article by Phillip K. Salin on the ecology of decisions,
or how to improve our models of the decision-making process.
Table of Contents - Foresight
We would like to give special thanks to Russell Mills, who has donated many,
many hours of help on the design and layout of Update and other
Foresight publications. Some assistance for Russ has been found thanks to
Hilary Nelson, who did the layout on this issue. Special thanks also go
to Bob Fleming, Cheri Kushner, and their company futheuristix for the generous
donation of a Canon copier. This will make a big difference to our office
Thanks to Hank Lederer for his database searches on NEXIS. Hank can no longer
supply these, so we are looking for someone with access to NEXIS to run
periodic searches on the word nanotechnology. Thanks also to those
who volunteered to help with publication layout; we hope to take advantage
of your generous offers.
Belated thanks to Felix Frayman for help in translating from Russian to
Thanks to the following for sending technical articles and media coverage;
please keep these coming: Richard Cathcart, Giri Cherukuri, Jim Conyngham,
Dick Crawford, Eric Dahlstrom, Donald J. Fears, Jaroslav Franta, W.C. Gaines,
Alan Hald, Robin Hanson, Mark Haviland, Stan & Kiyomi Hutchings, Anthony
L. Johnson, Spencer MacCallum, Joy Martin, Tom McKendree, Anthony Oberley,
John Papiewski, Jack Powers, Alvin Steinberg, and Christian Talbert.
Table of Contents - Foresight
We will need volunteers to staff the Foresight Institute booth at the Space
Development Conference. See the article in this
issue for details. We are also looking for a volunteer to prepare an
index for the proceedings of the First Foresight Conference on Nanotechnology.
From our "Thanks" column it's clear
that many readers are already sending in articles, both technical and nontechnical.
We'd like to make this more systematic for the technical articles, with
volunteers agreeing to monitor specific journals. If you routinely look
at one or more of the following and are willing to send us copies of relevant
articles, please contact us: Angewandt Chemie, JACS,
J. Appl. Phys., Appl. Phys Lett., Protein
Engineering, J. Computational Chemistry, J. Molecular
Electronics. As always, articles from other publications are welcome.
We already monitor Science, Nature, and Science
News. We'd also appreciate help from Japan in identifying relevant
journals and obtaining abstracts in English of key articles.
Someone with routine access to NEXIS could help us by running periodic searches
on the word nanotechnology.
We are in need of the following materials and help: a fax machine and a
laser printer for the Macintosh. Office space in the Palo Alto area is needed
as well. Volunteers with legal or fundraising experience are welcome. Note
that donations of equipment or funds are tax-deductible in the U.S. as charitable
If you or your company can help with any of the above, please call us at
Table of Contents - Foresight
From Foresight Update 11, originally published 15
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