Stanford University is in the Silicon Valley and has been the home of so many start-ups and the nursery of some of the greatest technical innovations so it is unsurprising that a new ‘University’ called the Singularity University should find itself a place in Silicon Valley, since it is an institution created in the valley’s own image, highly networked, fuelled by a cocktail of philanthropy-capitalism and endowed with an almost mystical sense of its own destiny. Naturally Google, Microsoft and NASA and other leading institutions and many sponsors like Cisco and the biotech giant Genentech are supporting the University both with money and campus space.
The NASA Ames Research Center houses this Think-tank com advanced techno-university where the foundation members like futurist Ray Kurzweil and space-engineer and doctor Peter Diamonds lecture on technology, digitalization, innovation and disruption.
‘Singularity’ that sounds like something out of a sci-fi novel was chosen by Kurzweil because it’s usually taken to mean the point at which computer intelligence surpasses human intelligence. Which, according to Kurzweil’s predictions, and he does have some form on this, will be in 2029.
He also predicted the growth of the internet and the year in which computers would beat the best human chess players, the e-reader, online education and loads more By his own count 89 out of 108 predictions he made in 1999 about where the world would be in 2009 were correct plus another 13 were ‘essentially correct’.
He also invented the first flatbed scanner, the first machine to read aloud text for the blind, the first music synthesizer that could replicate the concert grand piano, and today he is into A.I. and voice and language recognition for Google.
When he addresses his audience at the university it is by 3D holographic projection into the auditorium from his home in Boston, and part of his message is that the future is not linear progress but exponential, with other words it is going to be explosive. That will come as no surprise to George Moore who in ‘Moore’s Law‘ told us that computing power would double every 2 years and predicted it would last for at least 10 years. He went on to co-found Intel, but importantly computing power has not stopped its exponential growth so from 1 becoming 2, 2 becoming 4, 4 becoming 8, and so on, so when plotted on a chart it looks like a rocket taking off.
It is here at the Singularity Uni that the course participants learn not so much about software, but practically all the new technologies, drones, nanotechnology, biotechnology, robots and artificial intelligence and more, technologies only the few may have come across, but which together are set to bring dramatic changes around us and our lives.
So many well known people are among the some 20000 students who have passed through this place, including presidents, entrepreneurs, engineers, actors, the wealthy and business people all in spite of the aura of science fiction, techno-utopism and futurism to find out how they can survive and create opportunities in a future populated with autonomous drones, autonomous cars, self-educating robots and biological 3D-prints.
To give you an idea of what is in the pipeline or already here think of a swarm of drones planting new forests or delivering parcels, satellites using hyper-spectral imaging able to pick up changes to the molecular level, Indian smartphones for $4.00, nano-satellites sending broadband at high speed across the world, 3D-printing using asteroid dust from space, Bitcoin you’ll already know about, intelligent voice and image recognition software that can tell whether you are lying. Nanomedicin to catch every virus, and self-taught robot arms, all of which are now on the market or close to.
One might be forgiven for wondering what the role of Kapiti SeniorNet in such a world may become for the global expansion and distribution of knowledge is rapid, and as the technological development happens exponentially it is unlikely to be bothered about wars, financial crises or catastrophes.
Never before have we seen so many different technology developments move so fast and at the same time, it is enough to lose your breath over, and we can only hope that they happen in the right hands even if one can be certain that the US Defence Advanced Research Project Agency [DARPA] is keeping a beady eye on what is going on in Silicon Valley and at the Singularity University.
They might find that society are not yet ready to absorb the changes and our problem is that our social structure that we use to live by such as health, education, judicial systems are designed for a world a 100 years ago. Every one of these structures will need rebuilding but our leader structure is for a status-quo oriented, stable, and predictable world with insufficient resources, not for a changeable and disruptive world with an abundance of resources.
Changing the mentality of our leaders may well be the reason for the Singularity University. And the first step to allow us to manage the disruption is to come to terms with the necessity of keeping ourselves well informed so that we may make good and well informed decisions.
Being a member of Kapiti SeniorNet and keeping up with the new tech is a good start.