At Singularity University, the Future is Now

Senior Assistant Editor, Wintergreen Orchard House

Nov   2013



“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is to not stop questioning.” — Albert Einstein

Located inside NASA Research Park in Silicon Valley, Singularity University is one of the few institutions of higher education that you won’t find profiled here on CollegeXpress. That’s because it isn’t a traditional four-year university. Singularity University is a benefit corporation learning institution whose mission is to “educate, inspire, and empower leaders to apply exponential technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges.” In simpler terms, Singularity University has dedicated itself to solving the world’s problems through innovations in science and technology.

What is “singularity”?

Singularity University was founded in 2009 by Peter Diamandis and Ray Kurzweil. Diamandis founded the XPRIZE Foundation in 1995, a project that led to the development of the first private spaceship to make multiple passenger-carrying flights. Kurzweil is an inventor and entrepreneur and is currently a director of engineering at Google.

In 2006, Diamandis read Kurzweil’s book The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, which examines the future of humanity and artificial intelligence. In the book, Kurzweil discusses the idea of “technological singularity,” a theoretical moment in time when artificial intelligence will surpass human intelligence, forever changing the face of humanity and the world as we know it. Diamandis was so inspired by Kurzweil’s theories that he approached the author with his initial idea for Singularity University. Together, Diamandis and Kurzweil were able to recruit members of their accomplished circle of friends, including Google CEO Larry Page, to join in the venture, and SU was born.

Ambitious beginnings

Today, just four years after its founding, SU has become a hotbed of technological advancement and innovation. As an educational institution, SU offers the Executive Program for corporate innovators, the Graduate Studies Program for budding leaders and entrepreneurs, FutureMed for physicians and health care executives, and the Innovation Partnership Program, which pairs Fortune 500 companies with Silicon Valley’s best and brightest to achieve technological breakthroughs in business. And the SU Labs accelerator helps start-ups by fostering the development of emergent technologies. SU Labs “provides entrepreneurship programs and space where entrepreneurs can collaborate to build the next great solutions” and is supported by faculty, alumni, corporate partners, mentors, and investors.

Thinking exponentially

Writer Eric Benson attended SU’s March 2013 Executive Program and described his experiences in a recent BuzzFeed article. On the final night of classes, Benson and his fellow students were given pieces of paper with newspaper headlines from a “radical but not-too-distant future.” They were then asked to predict when the various world-changing breakthroughs would become reality. After much discussion and debate, the students arrived at the following conclusions:

Five years from now, a majority of medical doctors will consult with artificial intelligence before making a diagnosis; a genetic-engineering service for fetuses will be an increasingly popular resource for expectant parents; and a synthetically manufactured virus will be found spreading in the wild. Five years after that, 100 million people will have watched the World Cup via virtual reality glasses, and laptops, tablets, and mobile devices will have been abandoned in favor of more immersive computer systems. Jump another half-decade ahead, an AI will be given lead authorship of a scientific paper and a zoo will open that houses 10 species that went extinct more than 15,000 years ago.

Yes. As unbelievable as they may sound, these are the predictions that were made by some of the world’s most intelligent, successful, and forward-thinking individuals. Thinking “exponentially” means seeing the limitless possibilities the future holds and then working to bring them to fruition.

Could Singularity be in your future?

Again, SU is not an accredited four-year university. But don’t let that deter you. The programs offered by SU are meant to supplement a traditional education. Though competition for admission is fierce and fees for the 10-week summer program are considerable, if you truly believe you’re an “exponential thinker,” the Graduate Studies Program may be something to consider.

Exponential Technologies topics include:

  • Artificial Intelligence and Robotics
  • Biotechnology and Bioinformatics
  • Energy and Environmental Systems
  • Medicine and Neuroscience
  • Nanotechnology and Digital Fabrication
  • Networks and Computing Systems
  • Space and Physical Sciences

Global Grand Challenges topics include:

  • Education
  • Energy
  • Environment
  • Food
  • Health
  • Poverty
  • Security
  • Water

Why stand on the shoulders of giants when you yourself may be a giant? If you’d like to use your interest in science and technology to make the world a better place, find a way to do it, whether you participate in a program like those offered at Singularity University or refine your talents in a more traditional setting. In hopes of helping you tap into your potential and exercise the powers of foresight encouraged at places like SU, I’ll leave you with one simple question: what does your future hold?

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About Stephanie Farah

Stephanie Farah

Stephanie is a Writer and Senior Editor at Wintergreen Orchard House, where she manages the collection of data from schools in the Northeast and Midwest regions. Stephanie holds a B.A. in English from the University of Texas at Austin and a master's in journalism from the University of North Texas. At various times she has been: an uncertain undergrad, a financial aid recipient, a transfer applicant, and a grad student with an assistantship and a full ride. Stephanie is an avid writer, traveler, cook, and dog owner. She looks forward to sharing her experiences with college-bound students and the counselors guiding them along the way!  

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