Foresight Institute

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Foresight Institute
Formation1986; 37 years ago (1986)
TypeNonprofit research institute
PurposeResearch into nanotechnology and the existential risk
Key people
Eric Drexler, Christine Peterson

The Foresight Institute (Foresight) is a San Francisco-based research non-profit that promotes the development of nanotechnology and other emerging technologies, such as safe AGI, biotech and longevity.[1][2][3]

Foresight runs four cross-disciplinary program tracks to research, advance, and govern maturing technologies for the long-term benefit of life and the biosphere: Molecular machines nanotechnology for building better materials, biotechnology for health extension, and computer science and crypto commerce for intelligent global cooperation.[4]

Foresight also runs a program on "existential hope",[5][6][7] pushing forward the concept coined by Toby Ord and Owen Cotton-Barrett in their 2015 paper "Existential risk and Existential hope: Definitions", in which they wrote

we want to be able to refer to the chance of an existential eucatastrophe; upside risk on a large scale. We could call such a chance an existential hope. ... Some people are trying to identify and avert specific threats to our future – reducing existential risk. Others are trying to steer us towards a world where we are robustly well-prepared to face whatever obstacles come – they are seeking to increase existential hope.[8]

Foresight's stated strategy is to focus on creating a community that promotes beneficial uses of new technologies and reduce misuse and accidents potentially associated with them.[9]

Foresight runs a one-year Fellowship program aimed at giving researchers and innovators the support and mentorship to accelerate their projects while they continue to work in their existing career.[10][11]

Since 2021, Foresight has hosted a podcast about grand futures called "The Foresight Institute Podcast" and shares all their material as open source via YouTube with lectures from scientists and other relevant actors within their fields of interest.[12]

In addition, Foresight hosts Vision Weekend, an annual conferences focused on envisioning positive, long-term futures enabled by science and technology.[13] The institute holds conferences on molecular nanotechnology and awards yearly prizes for developments in the field.[14][15]

One of Foresight's founders, Eric Drexler was criticized for his position on nanotechnology. Critics asserted that Drexler's view ignored quantum effects in nanotechnology design, lacking practical output and technical obsolescence.[16]


The Foresight Institute was founded in 1986 by Christine Peterson,[14] K. Eric Drexler, and James C. Bennett to support the development of nanotechnology. Many of the institute's initial members came to it from the L5 Society, who were hoping to form a smaller group more focused on nanotechnology.[17] In 1991, the Foresight Institute created two suborganizations with funding from tech entrepreneur Mitch Kapor; the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing and the Center for Constitutional Issues in Technology.[17] In the 1990s, the Foresight Institute launched several initiatives to provide funding to developers of nanotechnology.[18] In 1993, it created the Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology, named after physicist Richard Feynman.[19] In May 2005, the Foresight Institute changed its name to "Foresight Nanotech Institute",[15] though it reverted to its original name in June 2009.

In 2020, following the COVID-19 pandemic, the institute moved its programs online.


The Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology is an award given by the Foresight Institute for significant advances in nanotechnology. Between 1993 and 1997, one prize was given biennially. Since 1997, two prizes have been given each year, divided into the categories of theory and experimentation.[20][21][22][23] The prize is named in honor of physicist Richard Feynman, whose 1959 talk "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom" is considered to have inspired and informed the start of the field of nanotechnology.[20] Author Colin Milburn refers to the prize as an example of "fetishizing" its namesake Feynman, due to his "prestige as a scientist and his fame among the broader public."[15]

The Foresight Institute also offers the Feynman Grand Prize, a $250,000 award to the first persons to create both a nanoscale robotic arm capable of precise positional control and a nanoscale 8-bit adder, with both conditions conforming to given specifications. The Feynman Grand Prize is intended to emulate historical prizes such as the Longitude prize, Orteig Prize, Kremer prize, Ansari X Prize, and two prizes that were offered by Richard Feynman personally as challenges during his 1959 "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom" talk.[24][25][26] In 2004, X-Prize Foundation founder Peter Diamandis was selected to chair the Feynman Grand Prize committee.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Guston, David H. (2010). Encyclopedia of nanoscience and society. London: SAGE. p. 253. ISBN 978-1452266176. Retrieved 13 July 2017.
  2. ^ "Biotech & Health Extension". Foresight Institute.
  3. ^ "Computation: Intelligent Computation". Foresight Institute.
  4. ^ "The Foresight Institute Podcast". Foresight Institute.
  5. ^ "Foresight: Existential Hope Program". Foresight Institute.
  6. ^ Cotton-Baratt, Owen; Ord, Toby (2015). Existential Risk and Existential Hope: Definitions (PDF) (Report). Future of Humanity Institute. Technical Report #2015-1.
  7. ^ ""Existential Hope" is the website the world needs". 30 May 2018.
  8. ^ Owen Cotton-Barratt; Toby Ord (2015). "Existential Risk and Existential Hope: Definitions" (PDF). Foresight Institute.
  9. ^ "Foresight Institute Launches Podcast on Technology and Science for Long Term Flourishing Futures". Archived from the original on 2021-07-15.
  10. ^ "Senior Research Fellows - Foresight Institute". Archived from the original on 2019-07-08.
  11. ^ "Foresight Institute is Accelerating High Risk High Rewards Projects to Heal the Planet".
  12. ^ "The Foresight Institute Podcast".
  13. ^ "At the Foresight Vision Weekend – Soft Machines".
  14. ^ a b Oliver, By Richard W. (2003). The biotech age: the business of biotech and how to profit from it (2nd ed., rev. ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. p. 86. ISBN 978-0071414890. Retrieved 13 July 2017.
  15. ^ a b c Milburn, Colin (2008). Nanovision: Engineering the future. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press. ISBN 978-0822391487.
  16. ^ Byrne (December 8, 1999). "Sidebar: Looking at Foresight". SF Weekly. Retrieved 14 December 2016.
  17. ^ a b McCray, W. Patrick (2012). The visioneers: how a group of elite scientists pursued space colonies, nanotechnologies, and a limitless future. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0691139838.
  18. ^ Berube, David M. (2009-12-04). Nano-Hype: The Truth Behind the Nanotechnology Buzz. Prometheus Books. ISBN 9781615922369.
  19. ^ Marcovich, Anne; Shinn, Terry (2014). Toward a New Dimension: Exploring the Nanoscale. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0198714613.
  20. ^ a b Marcovich, Anne; Shinn, Terry (December 1, 2010). "Socio/intellectual patterns in nanoscale research: Feynman Nanotechnology Prize laureates, 1993–2007". Social Science Information. 49 (4): 615–638. doi:10.1177/0539018410377581. S2CID 145573876.
  21. ^ Feynman Prize: Dr Amanda Barnard, ABC (Australia), 2015-04-30, retrieved 2018-05-12
  22. ^ Finkel, Elizabeth (2016-09-26). "Michelle Simmons: a quantum queen". Cosmos Magazine. Retrieved 2018-05-08.
  23. ^ Heinze, Thomas; Shapira, Philip; Senker, Jacqueline; Kuhlmann, Stefan (2007-01-01). "Identifying creative research accomplishments: Methodology and results for nanotechnology and human genetics" (PDF). Scientometrics. 70 (1): 125–152. doi:10.1007/s11192-007-0108-6. hdl:10419/28525. ISSN 0138-9130. S2CID 10150814.
  24. ^ a b "Diamandis to chair Feynman Grand Prize committee | Solid State Technology". Retrieved 2018-05-01.
  25. ^ Nicolau, D.E.; Phillimore, J.; Cross, R.; Nicolau, D.V (July 2000). "Nanotechnology at the crossroads: the hard or the soft way?". Microelectronics Journal. 31 (7): 611–616. doi:10.1016/s0026-2692(00)00036-7. ISSN 0026-2692.
  26. ^ Davidian, Ken (2005). "Prize Competitions and NASA's Centennial Challenges Program" (PDF). International Lunar Conference. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2016-03-12. Retrieved 2018-05-18.

Further reading[edit]

  • Smith, Richard Hewlett. "A Policy Framework for Developing a National Nanotechnology Program", Master of Science thesis, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 1998, available at VTechWorks

External links[edit]