Background

We stand at the threshold of a new renaissance in science and technology, based on a comprehensive understanding of the structure and behavior of matter from the nanoscale up to the most complex system yet discovered, the human brain. Unification of science based on unity in nature and its holistic investigation will lead to technological convergence and a more efficient societal structure for reaching human goals. In the early decades of the twenty-first century, concentrated effort can bring together nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, and new technologies based in cognitive science. With proper attention to ethical issues and societal needs, the result can be a tremendous improvement in human abilities, societal outcomes, and quality of life.

Rapid advances in convergent technologies have the potential to enhance both human performance and the nation's productivity. Examples of payoffs will include improving work efficiency and learning, enhancing individual sensory and cognitive capabilities, revolutionary changes in healthcare, improving both individual and group efficiency, highly effective communication techniques including brain to brain interaction, perfecting human-machine interfaces including neuromorphic engineering for industrial and personal use, enhancing human capabilities for defense purposes, reaching sustainable development using NBIC tools, and ameliorating the physical and cognitive decline that is common to the aging mind.

This report addresses several main issues: What are the implications of unifying sciences and converging technologies? How will scientific knowledge and current technologies evolve and what emerging developments are envisioned? What should be done to achieve the best results over the next 10 to 20 years? What visionary ideas can guide research to accomplish broad benefits for humanity? What are the most pressing research and education issues? How can we develop a transforming national strategy to enhance individual capabilities and overall societal outcomes? These issues were discussed on December 3-4, 2001, at the workshop on Converging Technologies to Improve Human Performance, and in contributions submitted after that meeting for this report.

The phrase "convergent technologies" refers to the synergistic combination of four major "NBIC" (nano-bio-info-cogno) provinces of science and technology, each of which is currently progressing at a rapid rate: (a) nanoscience and nanotechnology; (b) biotechnology and biomedicine, including genetic engineering; (c) information technology, including advanced computing and communications; and, (d) cognitive science, including cognitive neuroscience.

This report is based on exploratory research already initiated in representative research organizations and on the opinions of leading scientists and engineers using research data. Contributors to this report have considered possibilities for progress based on full awareness of ethical as well as scientific principles.

Accelerated scientific and social progress can be achieved by combining research methods and results across these provinces in duos, trios, and the full quartet. Figure 1 shows the "NBIC tetrahedron," which symbolizes this convergence. Each field is represented by a vertex, each pair of fields by a line, each set of three fields by a surface, and the entire union of all four fields by the volume of the tetrahedron.

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