Ever wonder what would happen if the world's top minds came together to establish a university? It's time to find out. NASA and Google have teamed up with leading science and technology entrepreneurs to open Singular University (SU), a school devoted to fostering collaboration and innovation "in order to address humanity's grand challenges."
Housed on the NASA Ames campus in Silicon Valley, the university will open in June 2009 and offer a nine-week graduate level program along with several executive level programs aimed at helping current leaders adapt their businesses to up-and-coming technologies. SU's founders include Pete Worden, the director of NASA Ames, Dr. Ray Kurzweil, distinguished author and futurist and Dr. Peter Diamandis, chairman of the X Prize Foundation.
Besides its cool name, (which scientifically refers to the ultra-compressed center of a black hole, but in this case, a period of rapid technological progress) what makes SU different from other top institutions? Instead of seeking to become the forerunner of a single discipline, the university is looking to compliment existing programs in a variety of subjects including biotechnology, AI, robotics, law, ethics and finance. The main goal is to gather "the next generation of CEOs, University Deans/Presidents and Government leaders" to begin networking and collaborating. It's like putting all the future power holders in one room and giving them a jump-start on solving the world's problems.
So, looking to become the leader of the world's next multibillion-dollar company? You might want to enroll. Better hurry though; class sizes are limited to 30 students for the first year. And if you don't make the cut, never fear. The University's body of materials is going to be available through a Creative Commons License. Now hit the
Getting great minds together to cross-pollinate ideas and disciplines has always been the ideal of the very concept of a University since the Middle Ages; so, it is always good to see a new Univ start-up holding Classical Humanities as foundational to its identity.
The caution, as always: That a true academic openness would override any tendency toward a facile scientific "epistemic imperialism" (cf. the works of William P. Alston) that requires of all faculty and student-body a set way of seeing/perceiving -- as an unspoken and unexamined presupposition. I.e., true openness at such an exciting venture as SU should require the breaking down of the walls -- which dominated much of 20th century academia in the U.S. -- between physics and metaphysics, in the most rigorous and analytic sense. One would hope SU would tread these epistemic waters carefully right from the start. One can hope.
"In the 2020s, neural implants will not be just for disabled people, and introducing these implants into the brain will not require surgery…. There will be ubiquitous use of neural implants to improve our sensory experiences, perception, memory, and logical thinking.
"These 'noninvasive' implants will also plug us in directly to the World Wide Web. By 2030, 'going to a web site' will mean entering a virtual reality environment. The implant will generate the streams of sensory input that would otherwise come from our real senses, thus creating an all-encompassing virtual environment that responds to the behavior of our own virtual body (and those of others) in the virtual environment. This technology will enable us to have virtual reality experiences with other people—or simulated people—without requiring any equipment not already in our heads. And virtual reality will not be the crude experience that one can experience in today's arcade games. Virtual reality will be as realistic, detailed, and subtle as real reality. So instead of just phoning a friend, you can meet in a virtual French café in Paris, or take a walk on a virtual Mediterranean beach, and it will seem very real. People will be able to have any type of experience with anyone—business, social, romantic, sexual—regardless of physical proximity."
---Are We Spiritual Machines? Ray Kurzweil vs. the Critics of Strong A.I., Jay W. Richards, editor. Seattle: The Discovery Institute, 2002, p. 14.
"I can trust my own mind only as far as I can trust the creator of my mind. As for 'noninvasive' neural implants, the same thing logically holds true: I can trust my implants only as far as I can trust the programmer."
---Linuxus Xianicus (from "The KillWare Chronicles" by K. D. Kragen, killware.com)
I wish them well with this endeavor. At first glance, their mission seems at crossed purposes. That is, areas of fundamental science a/o engineering research often don't suit interdisciplinary curricula. The intensity of study necessary to achieve an adequate competency in a given area, in order to perform original work in that area, typically requires exclusive attention.
What you tend to get when you address these fields in an interdisciplinary fashion - and especially when a business and marketing focus is introduced - is a sort of Physics for Poets treatment of the underlying subjects. But perhaps this is their intention.
Not usually prone to betting, I would bet a paycheck that the only way anyone from SU ever accomplishes anything is to take credit for someone else's accomplishment. Just look at the founders.