Sunday, February 22, 2009

Singularity University - the twilight zone

Singularity University? De di de do, de di de do. The name seems like a bit of hubris from Ray Kurzweil (one of its founders) and the prices are astronomical at $25k for a 10 week course, but despite the economic downturn, it’s due to open in June 09. Unashamedly ‘techy’ with a focus on biotechnology, nanotechnology, computing, robotics, space, AI and so on, but curiously, it has more of a religious feel than a university, its stated goal being to solve humanity’s greatest challenges – hunger, poverty, climate change, energy and disease. In fact it has all the hallmarks of a ‘Kurzweil and Diamontis’ cult.

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.” All in a 3 or 10 day course.

A focused attempt to bring together top minds to solve immediate problems may sound utopian, but given the scale and number of the problems, could we give them the benefit of the doubt?

I’m afraid not. There’s several problems here. Kurzweil’s singularity concept is nowhere near a strong enough concept to act as the brand for a major educational institution. It’s not quite as bad as the Trump University, but not far off. Diamantis is a huckster, who seems more interested in private sector space travel, at whatever environmental cost, than solving global problems. In fact, when you look at the faculty, the claim that "We are reaching out across the globe...” is laughable. It’s almost all US faculty, with far too many of Diamantis’s ‘space-buddy’s’ (Robert Richards, Michael Simpson) on the Board, and faculty. Looks like a get rich quick scam.


Anonymous said...

The IEEE has published a great special report on the "singularity" (a.k.a. the technological creation of smarter-than-human intelligence), with this handy and quite entertaining chart by Paul Wallich, which colour codes 15 thinkers on the subject according to whether they are true believers, deniers, or somewhere in between. Kurzweil, is at the true believer end of the spectrum. Nicholas Carr's recent The Avatar of my Father has some weird stuff about the plan Kurzweil reportedly has to bring his dead father back to life.......

jay said...

Well, Donald, the SU organization meeting did include honchos from Google, Cisco, IBM, and other outfits, so it's more than just folie a deux. Check Nick Carr's piece on this. SU certainly sounds odd, but I'm going to wait before condemning it.

Anonymous said...

Seems like a luxury retreat for the jet set think tanks. Donald, something is very heavy on my mind, This is not related but I have been asking everyone and have not received an answer that would make some sense.
I have just finished reading Dominique Lapierre's City of Joy and I am absolutely disoriented. I do not know how we Indians are so shielded from these realities. The service and humility of the Polish priest, the main protagonist is super human. At one point I could not understand a Christian belief, which I will also be asking my American friends.

At one point, the priest is approached by his leper friend to negotiate for another leper's wife. It seems as the leprosy deteriorates the sexual appetite of the lepers is insatiable(what an irony, no limbs but so much lust). Now, the priest refuses to negotiate on this leper's behalf. Later when the other leper sells his wife for 500 Rs, the priest attends the wedding and he comments: 'fantastic lesson in hope' and marveled once more that 'so much life and joy could spring from such abjection'.And at another place: he had read one day in a book by a French writer named Leon Bloy: We do not enter paradise either tomorrow or in ten years' time. We enter today if we are poor and crucified.'

What I am unable to understand is, how being poorest of the poor and suffering qualifies one to be an inhabitant of Kingdom of heaven? This has been tormenting me since I read this book. Why is this belief so strong, what I saw this transaction as is inhuman. A child is born out of this, and to me there is no bigger crime than to bring another life in the mentioned environs.

As you mention the problems, I was thinking that our Earth is still beautiful, giving and fertile, we have just become too demanding. Even a sensible population control can bring balance back. Sorry for the unrelated comment but am feeling so lost after reading this book and even guilty of not sharing enough and of having a good life and not being hungry.

Donald Clark said...

I'm with David Hume on this one and put all religious hokum into the same pot.

I haven't read City of Joy - but have a similar critique of Slumdog Millionaire - see my artyfacts blog - link at bottom of my blogroll.

Donald Clark said...

Sure they all attended the meeting but it's the boirad and governance that call the shots.

Marianne Ryan said...

Just a few similarities between Trump University and Singularity University include 1) neither are 'universities', 2) both use scarcity to sell abundance, 4.) the core faculty are sycophants, terrified of pissing off the founder(s), 3) and they both have founders with yuuuuge egos.