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Singularity University

Sounds cool, right? Especially when you read the mission statement:

“Singularity University aims to assemble, educate and inspire a cadre of leaders who strive to understand and facilitate the development of exponentially advancing technologies and apply, focus and guide these tools to address humanity’s grand challenges.”

I like the idea. It’s interdisciplinary. Which is wonderful. All these developments and scientific findings lately get me scattered. I’m always looking for something that will connect the dots so my head can quit spinning. And we’re going to effect world peace. Maybe we’ll figure out how to move the current culture beyond its insane imperialism. I’m imagining late nights at the local tavern discussing ways to hand the means of production over to the nanobots. They’ll argue about whether quantum computing can be used to develop a microeconomy in the third world. That sort of thing.

I’m psyched. I check out the curriculum (maybe there will be correspondence courses): http://singularity-university.org/overview/

I discovered this hopeful list of academic objectives:

1. Assemble: To search the globe and assemble the best and brightest postgraduate students and young professionals (tomorrow’s leadership) who are interested in the bio, nano, AI, info, and related technologies.
2. Teach: To present and teach cutting-edge research and projected developments in bio, nano, info, AI, and related technologies, with an emphasis on the interdisciplinary interactions between these fields.
3. Focus on Humanity: To understand how these exponentially growing technologies can best be used to address Humanity’s greatest challenges; and to monitor and evaluate the legal, policy, economic, ethical and social implications of these technologies and their interactions with society.
4. Network: To build and maintain a global network of the alumni and faculty of SU to enable them to remain connected and collaborate more efficiently to advance the University’s goals.
5. Spin out: To promote these advances through the creation of new businesses, new research directions in academia, and new collaborations.
6. Communicate: To communicate the critical effects, and potential risks and benefits of these fields to the public.

It all sounds cozy and great. I’m sure it will be wonderful and I’m not being sarcastic. Unfortunately a more thorough check of the site shows that it’s pretty much Ray Kurzweill’s baby. He’s all over this and in fact it’s pretty much designed to further the objectives as stated in his latest book, The Singularity is Near. I’ve read this book and so I know how it ends. We’re going to solve all of humanity’s problems such as poverty and hunger through the evolution of life to a virtual reality. This is all fine and good for those who could care less about the world as it is, but I happen to like the world, i.e. the low-tech part of it, i.e. nature. I don’t feel the necessity to change nature to fit our virtual reality needs. The entire planet does not need to be digitized in my humble opinion.

I’m quite sure that this Singularity University is not going to be an incubator for progressive thought. There will be no dissent here. No late nights in the tavern with vodka and sex with the professors. Students will be hand-picked and will already be on board with the idea that humanity can be saved by developing and consuming gmos and/or by leaving our filthy, retarded bodies behind to live out our entire lives in our heads. No more contact sports. There will be no philosophy or humanities courses here. There will be all kinds of science and tech courses and just as many econ and how-to-take-financial-advantage-of- the-new-tech classes.

At least there’s a Policy, Law & Ethics track. Check out the description:

This track will examine the role of government, law and ethics in dealing with the implications of the technologies covered in other tracks, including reinventing patent law, the patentability of concepts developed by AI, nanotechnology, and biotech/biomedical research; the future legal status of AIs, robots, cyborgs, and non-terrestrial resources and possible off-Earth civilizations; dealing with cybercrime and possible AI manipulation of financial markets; preventing risks from unfriendly AI, nanotech, and genetics; negative scenarios (surveillance, police states, etc.); the precautionary principle vs. the proactionary principle; policy and legal issues of environment crisis, and ethical issues around anticipated human manipulations, brain enhancements, AIs, self-replicating nanotech, brain uploads, cryogenics and re-animation. The track will also consider the promises in addition to the perils: what are the downside risks if we do not develop certain kinds of biotechnology, AI, or nanotech?

Yes, we must reinvent patent law because as it stands now, it’s damned hard to patent the human genome. Gotta get that changed.

I like the last question: What are the downside risks of staying the way we are? Well, uh, we’ll stay just the way we are: putrid, land-loving idiots that can’t seem to stop making war, love, and reality TV.

Singularity U sounds good. It sounds fantastic, in fact, and very science fictiony. Maybe even a little cultish. Kurzweill is definitely the embodiment of the charismatic leader required to head up a cult. He’s enthusiastic. He practices what he preaches. He is only thinking of mankind. He promises life eternal (and great financial reward). I wouldn’t mind at all if he was planning on hitching a ride on the next passing comet and taking his constituency with him. Unfortunately, he’s quite sure the world is his flock and he doesn’t purport to be a religious leader so people take him seriously. In other words, he’s going to take us all with him and we’re going to let him.

I guess there’s no serious problem here except that NASA is on board with it. The campus for SU is at NASA Ames and the director of NASA Ames is one of the directors of Singularity U. In other words, there’s a good chance I’m personally paying for this with my tax dollars. Even that’s not so bad. Finally there’s an outlet for my tax dollars other than the military.


One thought on “Singularity University

  1. Pingback: 2010: Finally, Those Dang Holidays are Over. « Singularity Watch

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