Monday, March 16, 2009

Singularity University

Is the world ready for an academic institution based on an event in history yet to come? NASA and Google think so. They teamed up to launch the interdisciplinary institution Singularity University. It's mission is 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."

The Singularity denotes the theoretical future point of unprecedented technological progress, when advances in computer hardware, molecular nanotechnology and biotechnology, and artificial general intelligence ignite an "intelligence explosion," total integration of communications and information, mass societal change, and, potentially, self-improving technology.

Located on NASA's Ames Campus in California's Silicon Valley, Singularity University officially opened its doors in January 2009. Though it is not an accredited year-round university, it will offer an annual nine-week postgraduate summer course beginning in June 2009 (now accepting applications!). Students can choose from ten different academic tracks, including future studies and forecasting, networks and computing systems, biotechnology and vioinformatics, nanotechnology, medicine and neuroscience/human enhancement, AI/robotics and cognitive computing, energy and ecological systems, policy/law and ethics, and finance and entrepreneurship. Singularity U will also run three- and ten-day executive programs eight times per year.

But is SU itself prepared for the coming Singularity? After all, their webserver crashed within mere hours of its launch due to their failure to post usage limits - an amateur mistake in the eyes of the "blackbox" programming elite. But its all-star faculty lineup and promising opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration are reason enough to keep an eye on its future progress. As faculty member and Stanford Media-X Research Network leader Paul Saffo writes: "The vast challenges facing us require new institutions capable of understanding and responding to the new technological hazards, and opportunities, that we face. Singularity University is just such an institution."