Foresight Update 23 (page 3)
A publication of the Foresight Institute
Hughes Aircraft Study of "Revolution
in Military Affairs" Sees Possible Role for Nanotechnology Devices
Hughes Aircraft Company foresees a looming revolution in military technology,
strategy and the nature of warfare. Nanotechnology may well play a significant
role, the company says in a recently released report.
Revolution in Military Affairs, published in June 1995 and
authored by Foresight member Tom McKendree,
concludes that emerging technologies - as so often in the past - will reshape
the way nations use force to achieve national goals. And, as has so often
happened in the past, current military establishment leadership embraces
new concepts slowly and grudgingly, often viewing radical ideas merely as
threats to existing hardware programs.
The Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) will be driven by advances in surveillance
systems, precision-guided munitions, and information technology, the study
says. (The report cautions that there's no guarantee of one and only one
With respect to nanotechnology, the study cites Eric Drexler's Nanosystems
and says, "A final technical trend is increasing fine control over
matter. Manufacturing technologies are producing ever-smaller features.
The clear limit to this trend is atomic scale features. At the same time,
there are already ways to manipulate matter at the molecular level. These
technologies are becoming increasingly general and powerful. These trends
seem to converge on an ability to perform digital material processing (DMP).
This would involve processing matter the same way computers process information,
at the lowest level, using massive numbers of small, high-speed mechanisms.
The result would be an ability to process matter with a speed, reliability,
complexity and flexibility similar to that with which computers process
information. Given the power of computers, and the fact that "matter"
is at least as general a phenomenon as "information," one would
expect DMP to be as broadly significant as digital information processing.
If information processing is the key to the [generally accepted RMA scenario],
DMP would likely be the key to a subsequent RMA.
"There are several possible development paths for digital material
processing. It is unclear which will succeed first, and thus prediction
when DMP might be developed is uncertain.
"Current trends are no guarantee of future performance, but they are
useful anchors to begin thinking about what might happen. If current trends
continue, then indications are that DMP would be developed somewhere between
2010 and 2020, with 2015 as a reasonable estimate.
"Developing DMP may run into significant difficulties, delaying deployment.
On the other hand, if developing DMP has significant first mover advantages,
then when it gets closer there may be large, well-funded efforts to develop
it. This dynamic might significantly shorten the development period."
Table of Contents - Foresight
The University of Southern California Chronicle, published
for the faculty and staff of USC, led its October 9 issue with a story on
"Manufacturing the minuscule." The story reports on a multi-university
research team led by USC chemists Larry Dalton and George A. Olah. Other
universities participating include Caltech, the State University of New
York at Buffalo, Cornell University, and North Carolina State University.
"They will research new techniques to create working devices with dimensions
measured in nanometers - one billionth of a meter," the Chronicle
The U.S. Department of Defense has earmarked $6.65 million over the next
five years for the project, which will focus its efforts on a nano-scale
computer memory device. The project draws from material science and chemistry
disciplines, using the scanning tunneling microscope to manipulate molecules
one-by-one and build memory devices with a "dendrimeric" structure,
so-called because of its branching nature, derived from dendron,
the Greek word meaning tree.
The group is working to design a new substance than can function much like
hemoglobin in blood cells, mimicking its ability to first pick up and then
easily give up an oxygen atom. The new substance will carry information
rather than oxygen.
In August the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) televised a 30-minute
program on "Big Science" on its Channel 2. A third of the program
was devoted to coverage of nanotechnology, in the form of an interview with
author Ed Regis, whose book Nano was published earlier this
year to mostly favorable reviews. (See Update
22.) The piece mentioned Eric Drexler, explained the principle of nanotechnology,
and then considered the likely consequences, mainly in food production and
the possible elimination of unskilled work.
The Woodland Hills, CA Daily News in July carried a perceptive and accurate
description of the Idea Futures
site on the Internet (http://if.arc.ab.ca/IF.shtml) and extensively
quoted Robin Hanson of Caltech, who first unveiled the concept in 1990 while
a visiting fellow at Foresight Institute. "Standard institutions for
punditry are defective," the article quotes Hanson. "The consensus
you perceive in media is biased, and tends to be extreme. Academics have
similar problems. The idea is to have a fair way in which you can reward
people who are good predictors and discourage people who are lousy predictors."
Scientific American published an article in its October
1995 issue on "Quantum-Mechanical Computers," written by Seth
Lloyd of MIT. He discusses the limits of size reduction in conventional
computer electronic circuits - "At [the] scale where bulk matter reveals
itself as a crowd of individual atoms, integrated circuits barely function.
Ten times smaller again, the individuals assert their identity, and a single
defect can wreak havoc." He discusses logic gates designed to rely
on the ability of individual atoms to affect the quantum state of neighboring
atoms. "Quantum logic gates, wired together, could make a quantum computer,"
he says. "Needless to say, quantum 'wires' are hard to build."
His following discussion seems not to be informed by the growing body of
knowledge on molecular nanotechnology; he focuses on larger-scale mechanisms
to convey quantum information.
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The Fourth Annual Foresight
Nanotechnology Conference, November 9-11 in Palo Alto, was a huge success;
citing those who made it possible could consume this entire column, but
special recognition for their efforts goes to:
We're grateful to Jon Garber of Connectix
for donation of one of their marvelous little golf-ball sized video cameras,
helping us move into the world of multimedia.
- Ralph Merkle of Xerox PARC, who
chaired the conference.
- All the speakers, who are listed elsewhere
in this newsletter in coverage of the conference.
- Cosponsoring organizations: the Caltech
Materials and Process Simulation Center, the Institute
for Molecular Manufacturing, and the USC
Laboratory for Molecular Robotics.
- Corporate sponsors, including Key Sponsor Apple
Computer, Major Sponsors Beckman Instruments
and Molecular Manufacturing Enterprises,
and Supporting Sponsors Biosym/Molecular
Simulations, JEOL, Loral Systems
Manufacturing Company, Niehaus Ryan Haller,
and the law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges.
- Marcia Seidler, Conference Coordinator; Foresight staff Judy Hill
and Elaine Tschorn, and the many volunteers without whom the conference
would not have run so smoothly.
Thanks to Lew Phelps, who returns as Guest Editor for this issue of Update.
He seems to be taking on a role akin to that of Carlo Maria Giulini, who
for many years was "Principal Guest Conductor" of the Chicago
Symphony Orchestra. Lew is Founder and Principal of Phelps Consulting Group,
a corporate public relations and strategic planning consulting firm located
in Pasadena, CA. His interest in nanotechnology arose through his relationship
with Global Business Network, which participates significantly in Foresight
Thanks to Russell Whitaker of Silicon
Graphics for getting Eric Drexler's hypertext
publishing essay onto the Web; see the link from Foresight's home page
(http://www.foresight.org). Thanks also to Russell and to Wayne Gramlich
of Sun Microsystems for joining the Web Enhancement discussion at the 1995
Senior Associate Gathering (see more in the next Update).
Thanks to the following for their always-valuable help providing paper and
electronic newsclips, information tidbits, counsel and commentary, and other
items of interest: Jon Alexandr, Arlen Andrews, Michael Colpitts, Douglas
Denholm, Joe Doyle, Dave Forrest, Robin Hanson, Tom McCarthy, Tom McKendree,
Jack Powers, Bryan Shelby, Jeffrey Soreff, Steve Vetter, Caroline Wagner,
Gunter Wittenberg. This is a partial list only; the flood of information
is increasing. Please keep it coming.
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The Los Angeles Nanotechnology Study Group met Nov. 1 on the west side of
the Los Angeles, after two years at Caltech. The move was intended to "give
a long overdue break to the UCLA folks" who have been enduring cross-town
rush-hour traffic, says group head Tom McCarthy, whose residence at USC
puts him halfway between the other two Los Angeles area campuses with major
nanotechnology interests. Those interested in the latest plans of the Los
Angeles group should point their Web browser to http://www-bcf.usc.edu/~tmccarth/nano.htm.
The group held its first meeting in December 1993, and has been holding
monthly meetings since. Meetings are usually held on Thursday evenings at
the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, with the program divided
between technical and non-technical interests. The technical portion has
been devoted to chapter-by-chapter discussion of Dr. Eric Drexler's Nanosystems.
Dr. Tanya C. Sienko, a researcher at the National Institute for Science
and Technology Policy in the Science and Technology Agency (STA) of Japan,
spoke in Tokyo in September on "The Track of Japanese Nanotechnology
Efforts: Present, Players, and Possibilities."
Dr. Sienko's interests and research lie in nanotechnology, where she has
been gradually starting to provide a link between groups in the U.S. and
Japan. She told the audience that in Japan, most so-called nanotechnology
research should be reclassified as micromachine research. The work is being
carried out by interdisciplinary groups in government laboratories supported
by MITA and STA, and at universities. Large Japanese corporations are also
interested, but mostly consider nanotechnology (in the U.S. sense) as only
a research topic at present. She said Japan's lack of small companies with
"blue-sky" ideas may inhibit breakthroughs, and that there are
possible repercussions from the biochemical research of the Aum Shinrikyo
cult, which is accused of the nerve gas poison attacks in the Tokyo subway
system and other terrorist-like activities. She also discussed the lack
of links between nanotechnology and biotechnology in Japan.
Dr. Sienko spoke on the same topic at Foresight Institute's Fourth
Annual Nanotechnology Conference in Palo Alto in November.
Notice to Study Groups: In our next issue Foresight Update plans
to begin regular publishing of meeting information for selected local nanotechnology
study groups. To be included, please send information about your local group
(name, meeting schedule, location, contact point for more information, and
Internet URL if applicable) to Chris Peterson at Foresight Institute (email@example.com)
with a CC to Update Guest Editor Lew Phelps (Lew@PhelpsConsulting.com).
Dr. Ralph Merkle of Xerox PARC is scheduled to chair a session on nanotechnology
at the 3rd International Conference on Anti-Aging Medicine and Biomedical
Technology at the Alexis Park Resort in Las Vegas, NV, December 9-11.
The conference is co-sponsored by the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine
(A4M), University of Minnesota, and Oklahoma State University. It is described
as "an opportunity for the general public, scientists, and the press
to learn about the pioneering work in this emerging specialty by respected
clinicians and researchers. It addresses significant breakthroughs about
reversing the detrimental effects of aging and is a forum for diverse disciplines."
Cornell University's Science and Technology Magazine devoted
most of its 32 -page Spring 1995 issue to the subject of nanotechnology.
Included in the issue are articles discussing the scientific aspects of
nanotechnology, the social and economic issues, and a day in the life of
a nanotechnology student. (See on the Web http://www.englib.cornell.edu/SciTech/s95/ntek.html)
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Anti-Aging Medicine & Biomedical Technology, Dec. 9-11, Alexis
Park Resort, Las Vegas, American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine. Nanotechnology
session chaired by Ralph Merkle on Dec. 11. Tel 800-5BIOCON, fax 301-652-4951.
29th International Conference on Systems Sciences, Jan 3-6, 1995,
Maui. Sponsored by IEEE. Includes nanotechnology plenary by Eric Drexler.
or call Foresight, 415-917-1122, fax 415-917-1123.
Organo/Molecular Electronics, Jan. 29-31, 1996, San Jose, CA. Sponsored
by IBC Conferences USA. Includes scanning probes, self-assembly, structure-building
with DNA. Tel 508-481-6400, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
'96, Feb 9-12, Baltimore. Sessions on DNA Computing and Quantum
Computation. Contact AAAS, tel 202-326-6450, fax 202-289-4021, http://www.aaas.org/meetings/meetings.htm
Molecular Nanotechnology Workshop, March 4-5, NASA Ames. Current
state-of-the-art computer simulations for nanotechnology applications. Contact
Marcia Redmond, 415-604-4373, email@example.com,
Structure Controlled Macromolecules of Nanoscopic Dimensions, symposium
within Materials Research Society Meeting,
April 8-12, 1996, San Francisco. Includes nanoscale assemblies and nano-devices.
Tel 412-367-3004, fax 412-367-4373, email firstname.lastname@example.org,
Nanotechnology lecture for Smithsonian, Washington, DC, by Eric Drexler,
date in spring '96 to be announced in later Update.
Workshop on Computational Nanotechnology, July 11-13, Colorado Springs
Marriott. Contact after Jan. 1: Sally Meyer, 719-389-6437, email@example.com.
Table of Contents - Foresight
From Foresight Update 23, originally published 30
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