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The processes that occur prior to and in the initial stages of earthquake rupture are of great interest in earthquake science. They result from the stresses, friction laws, and fault systems in the Earth and as such they determine how well large earthquake ruptures can be predicted, either ahead of time or as rupture is just beginning. There is hope that with better understanding of these processes, the timing of earthquakes might not always remain a deadly surprise. A workshop sponsored by the National Science Foundation's U.S.-Japan program and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science recently addressed these topics.