Sunday, February 8, 2009

Singularity University launched to considerable debate

Earlier last week, renowned futurist Ray Kurzweil and Xprize founder Peter Diamandis officially announced the launching of The Singularity University. As KurzweilAI noted, "With the support of NASA, Google and a broad range of technology thought leaders and entrepreneurs, a new university will launch in Silicon Valley this summer with the goal of preparing the next generation of leaders to address 'humanity's grand challenges.'"

As part of the launch, Kurzweil released this promo video:

SU will feature a number of prominent futurists and intellectuals, including the IEET's very own Ben Goertzel (who is also on the Board for Humanity+) and Aubrey de Grey.

The launch of SU has kindled considerable debate about their offering, mission and purpose. I've compiled some highlights:

Jamais Cascio of the IEET and Open the Future: "Flunking Out":

For an institution that claims to be "preparing humanity for accelerating technological change," it sure seems to be spending a lot more time talking about nifty gadgets than about the connection between technology and society.

To put it another way: this is all about the symptoms of "accelerating technological change," and almost nothing about the consequences.

For a trade show or a business workshop, that's fine. For something calling itself a university, it's amazingly short-sighted. Given the nature of the subject matter, that's especially ironic/tragic.

Bob Mottram of The Streeb-Greebling Diaries: "The Singularity University: where's the beef?":
So, if there is to be a Singularity University you would expect them to be doing...research, boldly going where other universities can't or won't, right?


The description of what the Singularity University will be doing, as described in their FAQ, looks very disappointing and I tried in vain to locate information on any particular research which they'll be doing.
Brian Wang of Next Big Future: "Debating Singularity Education Programs":
This site has noted that the term "University" has some getting their expectations messed up. By examining the program and its stated model, International Space University, we can see that is a crash program and startup bootcamp with team projects.
Alvin Brigis: Memebox/Future Bogger: "Asocial Singularitarianism - Breeding an Incomplete View of Convergent Accelerating Change":
By taking the emphasis off of social acceleration, dynamics and punctuated change, the HTAE [Hard-Tech Attribution Error] increases the tendency for inaccurate and/or incomplete forecasting. Sure, it's still very important to spread the word about accelerating technological change, but I think we've now been provided with enough data (massively valuable social networks, rise of the prosumer, the impact of abstractions on intelligence, Reed's Law, etc) to recognize the importance of social intelligence and dynamics in the equation. By not giving these threads their due, we fail to develop the most comprehensive view of what is going on (which hurts our collective intelligence, behavior and economics).

If the goal of SU is to focus on "the exponential growth of information technology and how it can solve the major problems of the world", as Kurzweil summarizes in the promotional video...then the curriculum as currently presented will 1) fail to bring in minds from explosive social fields, 2) attract non-critical tech-Singularity devotees, and ultimately 3) fail to provide a comprehensive picture of acceleration.

What do you think?

As an interesting aside, David Orban (who is involved with SU) writes:
It hasn’t been reported by the numerous articles covering the announcement of the Singularity University, but Ray confirmed to me, and it is rather important, that all the lectures, and the course materials that are going to be developed and delivered at its sessions are going to be made available online under a liberal license. This is going to be equivalent to or more liberal than the license applied to the Open Courseware Consortium’s content, of which famously MIT’s courses are also a part. This means that all the materials of the Singularity University are going to be published under Creative Commons Attribution license!

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