Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity University, Silicon Valley

Getting back to earth after a great summer culminating in the wedding of my elder son, I came back to the Guardian’s report of this summer’s Singularity University summer school in Silicon Valley. At first view, it sounds like geek heaven: nine weeks in the former Moffett Airfield base, with high profile names like Vint Cerf, Nobel prizewinners and investors; and covering topics from the sub-microscopic (nanotechnology) to the super-macro scale (space science). Participants paid US$25K to attend. What’s it about?

Singularity University (SU from now on) has as its masthead mission: “Preparing humanity for accelerating technological change”. At greater length, this becomes: to “assemble, educate and inspire … leaders who strive to understand and facilitate the development of exponentially advancing technologies in order to address humanity’s grand challenges”. The masthead is somewhat misleading; this is about leading and driving technology, not just reacting to it; but it is about using technology to respond to and overcome “some of the planet’s major problems”.

It was, the Guardian says, the brainchild of the legendary Ray Kurzweil (Chancellor) and space flight pioneer Peter Diamandis (Vice Chancellor). There’s significant support from Google and from Stanford University; Cerf, of course, is now on the Google staff and Stanford’s links include their Media-X research mediation network for industry.

I won’t go over the list of ideas and projects which the Guardian’s report describes; follow the link below to read the article, or go to SU’s overview video linked below.

But the article is perhaps misleading. When I read it, I had the impression of a one-off  summer school. Far from it: SU runs ongoing executive programmes and graduate programmes, and the reported graduate session this year was a pilot for an annual event. The pilot was limited to 40 students. In future, the numbers will be treble this.

Check it out! And by the way, when you land on the home page, there’s a rotating series of photos from this year’s event. There are three panels at left. Two of them link to intake information. It isn’t immediately obvious that the third is the caption for the current pic. The Overview, from the top menu, provides a list of SU’s guiding lights.

The singularity, if I’ve understood it correctly (and only from the outline, not from reading the book), is the point at which human intelligence becomes primarily non-biological: the future Kurzweil envisages is one where the electronic brain-power we deploy comes to dominate human intelligence. So you might also like to look at Ray Kurzweil’s singularity.com website, with details of his book “The Singularity is Near” and links to notes which are, in his view, pointers in that direction.

• Singularity University
• A school for changing the world, The Guardian (Technology section), 3 Sept 2009. There are links to coverage in The Guardian’s weekly tech podcast, and to a picture gallery
The Singulary is Near: book, and other resources


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