Singularity University Finally Launches; Trying To Tackle Big Problems

from the pretty-pricey-to-save-the-world dept

While the news is full of stories about the launch of Singularity University, this isn't exactly news. Ray Kurzweil admitted he was working on the idea at least a year ago, and the details of various planning meetings were made pretty public during last year as well. There had been some push among some to not call it the Singularity University, as the word Singularity has some negative connotations attached to it (mainly, people thinking the whole concept of a coming "singularity" -- or the point at which technology advances to a point that "lets humans transcend our biological limitations" -- is just outright nutty). However, Kurzweil is nothing if not a persistent promoter of the idea, originally popularized by Vernor Vinge, and he was adamant about the Singularity name sticking around.

Still, while I'm a bit skeptical of the whole "singularity" concept, you can't deny that the university's plans are ambitious (and potentially inspiring). It's brought together a wide range of folks from a variety of different fields, and the idea is to have intensive 9 or 10-week programs (some news reports say 9, others 10) for grad-level students, where they learn a variety of different subjects, but then work together to try to tackle a "big problem" (world hunger, climate change, etc.) using their diverse backgrounds and knowledge. For the privilege of saving the world (and, who knows, maybe avoiding mortality) you get to pay $25,000 -- which seems a bit steep. The "school" is also offering 3- and 10-day classes intended for those already in the workforce, which sounds like traditional executive education programs, which tend to be big moneymakers for universities.

It should be fun to at least watch where this goes. It's great to see big ambitious plans take shape, though it's really difficult to actually make them successful. I'd bet that it will prove much harder than the organizers expect... but if it works, that would certainly be pretty cool.

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  • identicon
    Hmm, 3 Feb 2009 @ 3:44am

    Wouldn't "Think Tank University" be better.

    "Think Tank" is an awesome phrase. Think tank think tank think tank think tank.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    cKarlGo, 3 Feb 2009 @ 4:33am

    Sounds like glorified vendor training to me

    Which has, in and of itself, become far too expensive. The last couple of classes I went to were slightly better than being read to out of the book. When I started asking questions directly related to our environment, I was pretty certain that the guy's head was going to explode.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Feb 2009 @ 5:09am


    I assume they are accredited in just one thing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Deborah Gold, 3 Feb 2009 @ 6:25am

    Words mean things

    If "intelligence" is directly proportional to the ability to recall memorized data, then a computer is already much more intelligent that a human. Intelligensia's definition of intelligence is severely flawed. How quickly you learn should never have been a measure of intelligence. The smartest 10 year old in the world is still an idiot in an adult comparison. A savant just knows more that the greatest learned counterpoint. Science tries to apply conventional wisdom to savant abilities. In reality they are quantum in nature. I hope all of you wild donkeys are holding your breath waiting for Ray Kurzweil to solve the worlds problems. When it appears that he has, find the closet where he has the savant hidden. The only way that people like him ever accomplish anything is by claiming credit for other people's accomplishments

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Xiera, 3 Feb 2009 @ 8:42am

      Re: Words mean things

      I've always considered 'intelligence' to be a measure of one's ability to retain and *apply* knowledge. By this definition, speed of learning only indicates that you can become more intelligent faster, not that you necessarily will be more intelligent. (I've always been a fast learner, but there are others who are slower learners who are equally intelligent, and others who are more intelligent than me.)

      "The smartest 10 year old in the world is still an idiot in an adult comparison."

      The smartest 10-year-old is not necessarily an idiot by adult standards. If they are able to retain a lot of information and apply in a way that makes sense and solves problems, how are they any less intelligent than you or I? (Answer: they're not.)

      "A savant just knows more [than] the greatest learned counterpoint."

      Okay, but an intelligent savant can formulate arguments and conclusions on the fly by applying retained knowledge.

      "Science tries to apply conventional wisdom to savant abilities. In reality[,] they are quantum in nature."

      Whathuh? What exactly are 'savant abilities', the ability to think, to debate? Are you sure you didn't mean "Science tries to apply savant abilities to conventional wisdom"? because words aren't the only things that mean things; sentence structure does too. Are you suggesting that scientists and scholars study things that would otherwise be considered 'conventional wisdom' in an attempt to better explain them? If so, you are right, and it's the deeper understandings that we gain from these 'savants' that helps us progress as a society.

      'Savant abilities' are 'quantum' in nature? Of course, if anyone had infinite abilities, they'd be God...

      If someone brings together the best and brightest to solve a problem, doesn't he deserve as much credit as the individuals who actually solved the problem? This is just a different kind of 'smart'.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    JJ, 3 Feb 2009 @ 6:59am

    Wait, this "isn't exactly news" because... he already announced he was working on it? Have Apple's spectacular product announcements dulled us to the point where anything that isn't totally out of the blue doesn't even qualify as "news" anymore? If Microsoft releases Windows 7 to stores tomorrow, that'd be news, even though they've already, as you put it, admitted to working on the idea.

    If you're not all that excited about this thing (I'm not), say so honestly, don't try to subtly downplay it by playing games with the definition of the word "news."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Alan Contreras, 3 Feb 2009 @ 9:22am

    use of term "university"

    In most states use of the term "university" is legally restricted to state-approved degree-granting entities. Is that not true in California?

    As far as I know California is the only state in which establishment of a new university is legally impossible, owing to the accidental sunsetting of the state approval agency in 2007 and ham-handed legislative and gubernatorial fumbling ever since.

    Alan Contreras
    Oregon Office of Degree Authorization

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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