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What is nanotechnology? And what is this conference?

I'm now in the main conference hall, and have managed to find a wireless connection and an electricity outlet, so it looks like I'm good to go.

By way of background, two explanations seem to be in order.

First, "nanotechnology." The meaning of the term is actually a matter of some controversy. In fact, the speaker who is on the stage right now just said the meaning of the word has become "diffused." Here's a quick-and-dirty explanation: man's increasing control over matter at the molecular level suggests that we'll someday be able to create new materials with surprisingly new and useful characteristics. Much progress in this direction has already been made. Eventually, though, the thinking goes, we might be able to create molecular machines that allow us to manufacture things from the "bottom up." Such an advance would have enormous implications for the economy, for security, and for many aspects of everyday life.

Second, the Foresight Institute, the sponsor of this conference. The Foresight Institute was founded in the mid-1980s in order to study nanotechnology and a few other new technologies. Among its founders was Eric Drexler, who is considered the father of nanotechnology. Foresight hosts at least one big conference every year and awards prizes for progress in nanotechnology.

At this year's conference, which began just minutes ago, the latest batch of prizes will be awarded. Among the other conference highlights will be the release of the latest version of the Foresight Guidelines -- some broad principles that will, if followed, hopefully lead to the safe development of nanotechnology. More on those guidelines later...

October 22, 2004 | Permalink

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