NASA-sponsored Singularity University offers grad courses in accelerating technological change

David sez, "With help from Google and NASA, the Singularity University is being unveiled today. Its objective is preparing humanity to best face its challenges, using the tools that the accelerating technological change makes possible. These tools don’t emerge spontaneously from the background noise of economic or scientific activities: they have to be actively pursued, and sometimes are the application of the intersection of apparently distant fields. And the best part is that the materials of the Singularity University are going to be published under Creative Commons Attribution license!"

A number of exponentially growing technologies (bio, nano, info, etc.) will massively increase human intelligence and capability and fundamentally reshape our future. This concept, known as the Technological Singularity, as advanced by Ray Kurzweil, warrants the creation of an academic institution whose students and faculty will study these technologies, with an emphasis on their interactions, and help to guide the process for the benefit of humanity and its environment.
Singularity University (Thanks, David!)

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  1. Actually depending on the cause of the singularity (Strong AI, massive increase in computing power in really short time frame, crazy-ass robot stuff) the banks will probably be too busy negotiating with their new computer god to be spared, replaced by little computers the size of a toaster, or running from giant angry shareholders in shiny new robot bodies.
    So aside from the whole end of society thing, yeah, you wont have to pay off student loans. So theres that.

  2. I think the BBoing exposure is killing their server. Only the front page loads for me, every other page fails.
    d’oh!

  3. I’ll enroll in Singularity University right after I complete my PhD in Leprauchan physics!

  4. I think their site is down. Does that mean the Singularity isn’t happening? Or that it’s already happened?

  5. Finally… A worthy rival! We will crush you!

    Fight, fight in the darkening gloam!
    For Eschaton State, our hallowed home!
    Through whose eldritch halls
    Ring the final calls
    Of this bubble in the spacetime foam!

  6. Exponential technological change is such a joke. Our technology has changed less between 1975 and now than it did between 1875 and 1909. Computer speed growth is flattening out now. I haven’t seen an actual practical Nanotech application yet. Which leaves Biotech, which I agree is currently exponential and could remake everything. But really, who’s going to do genetic experiments on their kids?

  7. TANK U 4 some much-needed skepticism Freedryk… singulatarianism is (mostly) just another instance of fantasizing that technological change will save us all from mortality.

    I think nanotech is a little more transformational than you give it credit for, but on the whole, I agree. There are already research institutes like Janelia Farm doing cutting-edge neuroscience, and Creative Commons-licensed journal families like PLoS. So what, exactly, is so fundamentally different about this Google/NASA spinoff?

  8. @12

    Maybe you haven’t “seen” a practical nanotech application, um, because those applications are nano?

    Seriously, nanoparticles are now in thousands or household products. Let alone the stuff being developed for scientific labs, military, and space.

    The implications of self cleaning surfaces alone constitute rapid technological change, change which is most likely being held back because we would rather not deal with wondering whether someone should still get paid a stipend or should just be left to starve after their job is completely devoured by an infinitely more efficient process.

  9. change which is most likely being held back because we would rather not deal with wondering whether someone should still get paid a stipend or should just be left to starve after their job is completely devoured by an infinitely more efficient process.

    yes, that’s right – the world’s most egotistical and testosterone-driven scientists have suppressed their findings in a conspiracy to protect janitors

  10. If NASA is so interested in exponential technology growth then why are they still putting people into space with a launch vehicle designed almost 40 years ago and planning to replace it with a design developed almost 50 years ago?

  11. @16

    The scientists have already developed it. Japan demonstrated a fully self cleaning bathroom years ago.

    It would be the investment class holding it back, if it is happening (which I can’t say for sure, hence the “most likely”, because I do think its likely). Perhaps you underestimate the chaos that would be caused if millions of janitors were suddenly out of work? Or maybe you underestimate the degree to which capitalists fight efficiency in order to have more people working for less?

  12. It’s not like technological advances aren’t being made. They are just being made so fast that people aren’t even aware of them. For instance in medical school we still learn about drugs that will probably be obsolete in a few years. Companies like Calando Pharmaceuticals are doing a lot of interesting stuff with a combination of nanotechnology and RNAi, technologies which may change the entire face of medicine. But we don’t learn anything about these technologies in medical school. Heck, there are few places in the world you can even go to learn that stuff.

    Another problem is the cost of doing these things. Just because you can make a self cleaning bathroom, for instance, doesn’t mean you can do it cheaply yet.

    As for the comment about loss of jobs for janitors, you underestimate who else would lose out if this happened. Companies that design cleaning supplies/chemicals would lose money too. Unfortunately the US is now apparently in the business of keeping failed businesses alive (auto companies, banks, etc.) and keeping the rich from losing money. We have socialism for the rich but let the poor people die from having a horrible healthcare system…but that’s another rant.

    Sadly, a lot of people are also just plain scared of technology. The ethical debates about IVF and organ transplants went on far too long before the technology was implemented. We are facing worse hurdles now with stem cell research and nanotech. Ignorant people are scared of something they don’t understand. Until the majority are educated about these things I doubt we’ll see them in common use. I hope this Singularity University thing and the other similar programs help with that.

  13. “As for the comment about loss of jobs for janitors, you underestimate who else would lose out if this happened. Companies that design cleaning supplies/chemicals would lose money too. Unfortunately the US is now apparently in the business of keeping failed businesses alive (auto companies, banks, etc.) and keeping the rich from losing money. We have socialism for the rich but let the poor people die from having a horrible healthcare system…but that’s another rant.”

    I don’t underestimate who else could lose out. I know that many companies would go under. This is fine with me, because I do not believe one should have to “work” in a traditional sense to earn a “wage.” So old companies and industries failing is a huge bonus in my book, but only if we establish that humans deserve to eat, drink, and be sheltered regardless of whether there is any “work” left for them to perform.

    It is just such a system that will be fought vigorously by the entrenched industries as well as the Puritan-work-ethic folks who would rather force people into low wage work that has literally become “worthless” (ie is obsolete due to technology) than to allow those same people to have enough money to survive even if there are no more “jobs” for them. Other companies will be campaigning to bring in those technologies, but will be uninterested and/or hostile to the idea of work-less wages.

    You’re point is well taken that the cost of self cleaning surfaces may prove prohibitive at this point. Investment by governments in this technology (which also has the potential to seriously affect gender relations in many regions, as “house work” becomes a non-event) could jumpstart the process and reduce pricing much quicker than a market model based on selling this tech to 5 star hotels. It is to protect the entrenched status quo, as well as skirt the issue of society’s responsibilities to those whose jobs have been obsoleted, that governments are not focusing on efficiency-based nanotech and instead are developing robot mosquitoes to shoot insurgents in the neck with poison darts.

  14. @12, freedryk:
    The Big Ones I can think of:

    1875 – 1909 : Electricity, powered flight as a novelty, radio invented, Einstein’s glory days, telephone, fountain pen, internal combustion, motion pictures. Serious stuff, no doubt. Most of these, however, were still on the scale nanotech is at today. (well, not literally); no practical widespread applications, lots of pie-in-the-sky stuff. Yeah, it would be great to have a radio….but what am I going to use it for? Electric lights are great, if you can get electricity, etc. These things existed, but they were not widely used.

    1975-2009 : Printers, reusable space flight, landing things on other planets, MRI, the spread of consumer-level PCs (MS-DOS and the IBM PC in the 80s), genetic engineering (research and clinical; insuiln, HGH, clotting factors, many others), the spread of effective organ transplant, the contact lens, CD-ROM & CDs, the cell phone, hybrid vehicles, and, of course, the internet and all that entails. These are the life-changing things that have been invented in that timeframe and currently impact our daily lives.

    Things that are “close” in clude artificial organs (Jarvik (ok, as a first step), Alin Foundation, Abiomed), nanotech-based medications, manufacturing, and consumer products, the camera pill, DNA, RNA, and protein array technology, superconductor technology, fuel cells, and probably a dozen other things I don’t even know about.

    I’ve worked in biotech for 13 years (currently a researcher at a university in the eastern US), and the pace here is amazing. If someone were to tell me in the late 1990s the things I can do today, I’d think it was far-fetched science fiction. I swear, some of this stuff is like Star Trek. For example, I really can engineer a tissue, run experiments on it, and observe the changes in real time, nondestructively, at micrometer resolution. I can take a sample from an experiment and assay it simultaneously for up to 128 different proteins. Proteins; not RNA, not DNA, but actual protein expression. And it takes only the better part of an afternoon.

  15. Make no mistake: Over the long term, change accelerates.

    The world may very well experience a singularity. But by that time, everyone will already know it’s coming. As much as Kurzweil may wish it to happen in his lifetime, I think he’s drawn the knee of the curve too early by the better part of a century.

    A singularity doesn’t happen overnight; you don’t wake up one morning and exclaim “wow, it’s the singularity!” any more than people woke up one morning in 1387 to shout “wow, it’s the Renaissance!”

  16. I don’t blame people for being skeptical of the more extraordinary claims made by Kurzweil, but I guess it irks me that people dismiss anything with the word “singularity” in it because of him.

    My question for the skeptics would be: Do you think it is impossible to simulate the human brain?

    The singularity relies on the idea of being able to build something “smarter” than yourself. If it’s possible to simulate human intelligence, then I don’t think it’s far fetched to see us try to improve upon it – and that is the core definition of the singularity. I don’t think I’ll see it in my lifetime but I’m interested in the possibility.

  17. wow you’d think a bunch of scientists and smart thinkers would know how to export a proper gif with alpha :)

  18. @ jlborghead #26:

    …My question for the skeptics would be: Do you think it is impossible to simulate the human brain?

    I am not naive enough to think I can accurately predict what the distant future holds and thus I am agnostic in regards to the singularity. But I’m often surprised at the confidence that some people have that A.I. is on the verge of simulating a human-like intelligence.

    The brain is more than a computing device running a piece of software. The human experience is a rich blend of sensory inputs, memories, connections, chemically induced emotional states, and a million other things that are difficult if not impossible to simulate in an algorithm- even an incredibly complex one.

    Consider what a big difference a minor chemical imbalance or physical injury can make to an otherwise healthy human mind and you begin to understand what a challenge that a so-called “strong A.I.” actually presents.

  19. @Brainspore #29: No argument here. I just get sick of the negative, knee-jerk responses people have to the singularity.

  20. @klenow 24:
    Add to your list Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and Quantum Physics. Railways spread around the world. The first telegraph system linking every continent was established. The first skyscraper. The first modern assembly lines. By 1909 the first model Ts were sold, doubling the speed of private transport. The first airplanes doubled maximum human speed.

    In 1975 we drove cars, had intercontinental telecommunications, space travel and television. Today we have the same things. It’s true they’ve all gotten better, but they haven’t fundamentally changed, have they? Cars go the same speed, telephones are mobile now, space travel is _exactly_ the same and there are 100x as many tv channels. Battery storage has maybe doubled and become rechargable. We live the same length of time.

    The question is, how do you measure change? Is getting a phone a bigger change than moving from landline to cellphone? Are hybrid cars a bigger change than getting a car in the first place? Is radio more life-changing than cochlear implants? Are Evolution and Relativity and Quantum Physics more changing than a complete genome sequence, chaos theory and computational meteorology?

    And finally I should say I’m only talking about the west here. The former Soviet countries, China, India, Brazil, lots of places have experienced radical change in the last 30 years. But in the west our lives and abilities are roughly the same they were when we were born.

  21. Uh, guys? I smell a rat.

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2009/02/02/financial/f210207S78.DTL

    The nine-week tuition at Singularity will be $25,000, but it will take more than money to gain admission. The university intends to focus on the brightest students who “have an interest in addressing big issues,” Diamandis said.

    And out here in the real world, one gets research done by handing money TO people interested in looking into things, not taking money FROM them.

  22. …My question for the skeptics would be: Do you think it is impossible to simulate the human brain?

    My question for you is: Do you think a shortage of brains is really the issue? Brains are cheap. We have billions of them. Many of them are engaged in nothing more than basic survival, some are downright destructive, and the ones that contribute significantly are a tiny minority. Many more are wasted. Simulating a human brain is hardly an answer to anything.

    Support your local school lunch program, scholarships based on actual performance, and science funding of all kinds. You’ll do more for human fortunes by supporting the efficient application of old-fashioned brains than dreaming of artificial ones.

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