Foresight Update 27 (page 2)
A publication of the Foresight Institute
Directors Corner : Critical Discussion Experiment
to Begin on Web
Foresight Institute has a special
interest in systems to improve the evolution of knowledge and to enhance
the quality of discussion and decisions on complex issues. Currently there
is no good way to carry out such discussions: paper is too slow and inconvenient,
while Internet discussions - whether they be in the form of newsgroups,
static web pages, or chat sessions - are too unstructured.
Our Web Enhancement Project aims
at adding features to the World Wide Web needed to better carry out critical
discussion. These features have been described in the essay "Hypertext
Publishing and the Evolution of Knowledge" available
on the web and on paper from the Foresight office.
Hyper-G has true hypertext publishing features
We had originally thought that this would require Foresight to produce the
needed software, but fortunately this has become unnecessary by the introduction
of Hyper-G by an international team
(originating, as did the web itself, in Europe). Hyper-G, known as HyperWave
in its commercial version, has almost all of the features on our wish list
for hypertext publishing, because it was based on the early concepts
of hypertext from Ted Nelson, and also explicitly designed for structured
Hyper-G client software is available for UNIX, Windows NT, Windows 95, and
is in preparation for the Macintosh. A line-oriented terminal version of
the client is also available. However, the UNIX client is the most advanced,
and can be run under the operating system Linux
on Wintel machines, as Foresight plans to do.
- Bidirectional links--links that work in both directions between
linked documents. On today's web, links work in one direction only.
- Extrinsic links--links that can be made visible without the
document author's permission. Needed for critical discussion.
- Link typing and sorting (filtering)- the ability to label
a link with a keyword describing its type (e.g., criticism or example) and
sort for only those links to be displayed. Needed when a document has many
extrinsic links. Annotations are an explicit link type already coded into
- Fine-grained links--as on the web, links can be made to only
part of a document, even one word or one letter. In Hyper-G, up to six links
- Links in non-ASCII documents--links can be made and viewed
in PostScript, gif, jpeg, tiff, video, VRML, and soon audio and PDF (Acrobat)
documents. This is possible because unlike conventional HTML documents,
which encode links within the document itself, Hyper-G supports the ability
to maintain a list of links in a database, which can be merged into the
document at display time. Links are treated as objects in their own right,
with their own attributes and permissions ("rights").
- Fine-grained access control--for each document, one can specify
who can see the document, who can see each link, who can edit the document
itself, and who can edit the links.
- Advanced structuring facilities for documents, including
graphical and even 3D visualization of the structure.
- Sophisticated search abilities, including the ability to
search Postscript document contents (i.e., special Hyper-G tools can "read"
PostScript document contents and make a full text index of them). A search
engine is built into the server, which cooperates with a more lightweight
search ability on the Hyper-G client.
- Compatibility with the existing web--Hyper-G documents can
be viewed using standard web browsers.
Partly because they include commerically-useful features such as subscriptions
and licensing, Hyper-G or Hyper-G spinoffs are already in use at publishing
companies such as Springer, Academic Press, Wiley, and Oxford University
Press. It is also used extensively by the European Space Agency.
Foresight can experiment with Hyper-G without betting on its long-term success
as a standard. The goal is to use the basic capabilities of second-generation
hypertext publishing systems by building information structures with real
content. This content could later be transferred to another system that
provides the same basic capabilities. Foresight hopes to show the usefulness
of the advanced hypertext publishing features listed above: we may be instrumental
in spreading these back into the World Wide Web as a whole. Thus, our efforts
don't depend on Hyper-G and HyperWave commercial success, but on how well
we demonstrate the feature set.
Computer security debate
Our first experimental debate will be in the field of computer security,
specifically language and operating system security: how can we maximize
cooperation without vulnerability? We will start by examining Java-style
languages. This topic has several advantages for an initial debate:
The funds for Foresight's Hyper-G server were raised at this
year's Senior Associates Gathering. This machine has now arrived and
is being configured by Russell Whitaker,
technical leader of the project. We will be putting in a skeleton argumentation
structure, and then inviting specific security experts to join the debate
one by one. The reason for this controlled build-up of participants is that
we expect to encounter glitches in the process which will have to be solved
using social rules, rather than the procedures we can enforce using the
software. We will also have to evolve filtering procedures.
- It is important to the safe and widespread deployment of nanotechnology,
i.e. it is critical to our shared future.
- It is already of great current interest for commercial reasons.
- It will be debated by those familiar with computer technology: early
adopters who already use the web and may be willing to install the Hyper-G
client software so they can participate actively in the debate.
- It is complex enough to demonstrate the usefulness of our target feature
set for debating complex issues.
- It is relatively theorem-like: propositions can be clearly stated--"Given
these assumptions, this security violation is impossible"--which can
then be tested and possibly disproved either theoretically or experimentally.
Thus, while the topic is complex, it is not as messy as human systems. Our
first debate should be one in which actual progress is possible.
Once it's clear that the debate software is working well, and we are being
successful at adding needed social rules, we will open up access to the
debate first to Senior Associates,
later to Foresight members and some relevant professional groups, and eventually
to the general public.
This computer security debate is only the first of many Foresight plans
to conduct on advanced technologies of public policy importance. We hope
that the debate procedures we evolve can be of use to those debating other
topics as well-including "messy" human issues.
Hyper-G information sources
Those interested in assisting the project at this stage can start to familiarize
themselves with the software by reading the book HyperWave: The Next-Generation
Web Solution (by Hermann Maurer, Addison Wesley, 1996;
available free online and
by installing the client software available
free online (ftp://ftp.ncsa.uiuc.edu/Hyper-G or ftp://ftp.utdallas.edu/pub/Hyper-G).
See the FAQ at http://www.hyperwave.com/faq.
You may also join the discussion group comp.infosystem.hyperg, or join its
mailing list mirror firstname.lastname@example.org by sending email to email@example.com
with the message body: subscribe hyper-g <Your Name>
In addition, funds are needed immediately to pay for
In the longer term, we invite all Foresight members-and eventually all web
users- to join us in debate online. We believe that full hypertext
publishing capabilities are a breakthrough equal in importance to the invention
of the library. No other tool is sufficient to deal with the complex
problems to be solved in successfully implementing nanotechnology and the
other advanced technologies now on the horizon.
- Foresight's client machine, about $3,900
- people's time in organizing the project, tech support to targeted
experts, and uploading reference documents
- $500 membership fee for Foresight to join the Hyper-G Consortium,
and thereby become eligible for R&D grants from the Consortium; and
- our own connection to the Internet when we outgrow our shared high-speed
For project updates, visit our web
site. Donations may be discussed with Chris Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org
or tel 415-917-1122, or mailed to Foresight Institute, PO Box 61058, Palo
Alto, CA 94306 USA, and are tax-deductible in the U.S.
Special thanks to Russell Whitaker for technical leadership; and to those
who donated funds for the server machine: Hughgie Barron, Ken Blakeslee,
Steve Burgess, Warren Freeman, Dan Fylstra, Jim Lewis, David Lindbergh,
Joy Martin, Chris Portman, Gary Pullar, Dick Smith, and J. Tory.
Table of Contents - Foresight
Anonymous Donor Pledges $40,000 Matching
For New Senior Associates and Increased Donations
A generous anonymous donor has pledged up to $40,000 in matching grants
for new Foresight Senior Associates and increased donations by current Senior
The donor has provided a $5000 matching grant for every ten new Senior Associates
Foresight can obtain between now and the end of January 1997, up to a $40,000
maximum. It will also apply to upgrades on any Senior Associate memberships,
and to any one-time donation of cash or stock of $100 or more. (Stock donations
may provide special tax benefits if your basis is lower than the current
market value of the stock; consult your tax advisor for details.)
This means that every new Foresight Senior Associate dollar donated between
now and the end of January, 1997 the organization will get two more immediately.
You can make your new donation dollars go three times as far as they otherwise
Call Foresight Institute with your new or increased donations at 415-917-1122,
fax your pledge to 415-917-1123. Or email email@example.com. Your donation
will make a big difference--three times what you give.
Check our World Wide Web site for progress
toward the goal.
The deadline to qualify for this two-for-one matching grant is January 31,
Table of Contents -
Foresight Update 27
Senior Associates Gathering Covers Wide Array
By Lew Phelps
Foresight Senior Associates gathered
at the Holiday Inn Palo Alto October 18-20 for serious discussion, playful
estimating of future timelines, and excellent food and conversation.
For fun, participants marked their name badges with guesstimates of when
the Feynman Grand Prize will be awarded.
Estimates ranged roughly from five to fifty years, and in precision from
decade bandwidth to single-day definitiveness.
Foresight Chairman Eric Drexler opened the proceedings with a discussion
of "Where we've been, and where we're going."
"Just 100 years ago people were arguing whether atoms existed. Decades
later the idea of macromolecules (such as protein) was still controversial.
By the time of the 1959
Feynman talk, people were working 'top down' and others began to work
on molecular stuff in biology. That meant, in effect, that we had biologists
studying machines. They were not looking at things from an engineering point
of view. To consider the consequences of that, imagine aeronautics if airplane
design had remained a sub-branch of ornithology," he suggested.
"The 1970s tossed out much of our vision of the future--space expansion,
intelligent machines, etc.-- and brought a new focus on Limits to Growth.
Despite mankind's long history of things getting better and resources getting
cheaper, thinkers in the 1970s were advocating a contrary direction."
Meanwhile, Drexler had begun to think about programmable molecular machines
as an answer to such negative thinking. That culminated with the publication,
ten years ago, of Engines
The book had unintended consequences, Drexler admitted. "I made a big
strategic mistake in assuming that the science community would understand
non-mathematical description and discussion. Scientists simply could not
accept it. So eventually I wrote Nanosystems
with a different heuristic--it had to have lots of math, be heavy, and look
like a textbook. It also had to be useful to somebody entering the field,
and intimidating to potential critics," he quipped.
Looking ahead, Drexler said, "Today; we as a society are confused about
matter, space, time, and mind. Matter: people say we're running out of resources,
but nanotechnology changes that. Space: people say we're running out of
space, but space exploration removes that limit. Time: we're all supposed
to be dying, but with nanotechnology we'll be able to keep youthful physiologies.
Memory is mainly structure, and we can maintain it. Mind: with nanotechnology
we can make machine intelligence systems a million times faster than our
"We'll have an infinite supply of people who are willing to say it
can't be done, right up to the day it happens," he said. "So we
can spend all our time between now and the technological singularity arguing
with the ignorant, or we can talk with people who do understand and move
Among the many other speakers at the gathering:
Al Globus described the impressive and growing team at NASA's Ames
Research Center devoted to computational nanotechnology (see the article
in Update 26). "NASA has a goal of eventual establishment
of permanent, self sufficient settlements in space," he said. This
opens new possibilities for molecular manipulation. Chemists have added
a wide range of molecular fragments to buckyballs. This would add chemical
functionality to the excellent physical characteristics already demonstrated.
Jim Lewis and Ted Kaehler discussed current interesting research
work. Kaehler described Bruce Smith's proposal to assemble three-dimensional
arrays of proteins attached covalently. "How do we get them to find
each other in a pool of water and get them to attach?" Kaehler asked.
"One proposal is to attach single stranded DNA to each cubic protein
molecule, then dump in another batch with complementary DNA. This has the
effect of pressing these things together; there is a clear path to making
Jim Lewis described Richard Smalley's new nanotube
probe tip, a multiwall carbon tube about 5 nm in diameter. "And
now they're talking about a single wall nanotube glued on to the end of
that," he said. This opens new possibilities for molecular manipulation.
Chemists have added a wide range of molecular fragments to buckyballs. This
would add chemical functionality to the excellent physical characteristics
Computational nanotechnologist Ralph Merkle of Xerox Palo Alto Research
Center provided a fascinating historical tour of proposals in the early
1800s for mechanical computers. "Babbage even considered binary, but
rejected it. Another guy named Fowler designed a digital machine whose active
elements were sliding rods that could be in one of three positions, so it
required less precision than Babbage's [decimal] design. There was this
entire group of people swapping ideas about mechanical computers, and they
just vanished from history. By 1850 electrical relays were in use. What
would have happened if anyone in that group used relays? Did we miss getting
started with computers by a century?" (The concept of mechanical rod
logic computers at the molecular scale was first advanced by Drexler in
Engines of Creation.)
"I conclude that the march of history depends very much upon individuals--
people who put ideas together," he said.
Public relations consultant and Update Editor Lew Phelps presented
an analysis of the Scientific American debate
conducted on the World Wide Web.
"This is the first known example of anyone using the Web to successfully
rebut an erroneous article in a major print publication," he said.
"We'll see more of this in the future. You no longer need to own a
printing press to have a public voice." A related discussion by public
relations consultant Ed Niehaus and author Gayle Pergamit
on communicating nanotechnology concepts led to a lively group discussion
sharing concepts and experiences related to communication matters.
Resources for nanotechnology research continue to emerge. Among those discussed,
Foresight Webmaster Jim Lewis provided a tour of the nanotechnology-related
sites on the World Wide Web. Richard Terra discussed his forthcoming
"State of the Field" Report on Nanotechnology. Russell Whitaker
described encouraging developments supporting Foresight's Web Enhancement
goals. (For details on the latter, see Chris Peterson's
Senior Associates Gatherings are open to all Senior
Associates-- those who pledge donations at various levels from $250
to $5,000 a year for five years. Interested persons should contact the Foresight
Institute offices (contact information,
Senior Associates Membership Application).
Table of Contents - Foresight
Photos from Senior Associates Gathering
Mike Pique and Warren Freeman examine Pique's computer generated plastic
and layered paper models of protein molecules during the Senior Associates
Senior Associates test their skills at a Hands-on Molecular Modeling session.
Table of Contents - Foresight
From Foresight Update 27, originally published 30
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