Prior to hanging his hat here in the administration office of Singularity University (S.U.), Klein produced the film Exploring Life Extension and co-edited the book Scientific Conquest of Death, both of which are pretty self-explanatory. He is reed thin, thanks to strict adherence to a health regimen designed to prolong life (minimal calories, healthy foods, no booze, many supplements) and possibly because of the stress of helping to create and open this, America's newest and most peculiar institution of higher learning.
S.U., which opened last summer on the campus of NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, is the kind of place where you can tell your classmates that your goal is to one day upload your consciousness to a computer and they won't look at you as if you've just announced plans to re-create your father using scraps of DNA salvaged from his corpse. Actually, you can say that too. The school's chancellor, Raymond Kurzweil, has—and will say it again if you ask him.
Kurzweil is one of the most prolific inventors and radical thinkers of the past half-century. His creations include the flatbed scanner, optical character-recognition software, the first text-to-voice reader, and an electronic keyboard that accurately mimics the sounds of a grand piano, which he built at the urging of Stevie Wonder.
For the past decade, however, the 61-year-old has become best known for synthesizing and espousing a set of controversial ideas that have made him an almost messianic figure to transhumanists, cyborg enthusiasts, nanotech evangelists and others on the fringes of the futurist circuit. As argued in his 2005 best seller The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, Kurzweil believes that humanity has entered a period of exponential growth in technology that has us hurtling toward the next great evolutionary leap. By 2029, he projects, computers will achieve human intelligence, and by 2045 we should be able to upload our consciousness into machines, providing eternal life. This is the Singularity. Along the way, we'll build some seriously smart robots, harness nanotechnology to end disease, custom-manufacture organs and limbs, and generally change the world with tools that we plodding proletarians can hardly imagine today.
Certainly, Kurzweil's specter haunts the halls, but the real idea behind the program is practical and clever: to put together brilliant people who wouldn't typically interact and get them thinking about how to solve problems and advance technology.
I spent my first afternoon on campus in Melanie Swan's "Futures Frameworks Simulation Workshop." Swan, a Silicon Valley hedge-fund manager, is one of the lesser-knowns among a faculty of heavyweights like Vint Cerf, the father of the Internet, and Will Wright, creator of The Sims. On this day, she was demonstrating how to best use prediction models to a group of 10 students, who had already spent the morning buzzing around the Bay Area in a zeppelin to observe cloud formations and witness firsthand the logistics of operating a small aerospace business. (Everything here is viewed through the prism of entrepreneurship.)
Swan clicked through PowerPoint slides of projections of the future as she sees it unfolding. "I predict that the future will merge traditional electronics and molecular electronics, integrating organic and non-organic materials," Swan said, following one of Kurzweil's favorite formulations. "By 2018, we should have the ability to do a full human-brain neural simulation. I think it's possible we'll be able to do a backup of our mind file before that." Around the room, students nodded matter-of-factly and tapped along on their laptops, unfazed by the notion.
In truth, S.U. isn't all about Ray Kurzweil. It wasn't even his idea. That credit goes to Peter Diamandis, founder of the X Prize Foundation and the annual summer graduate program that S.U is modeled after, the International Space University. ISU is an interdisciplinary crash course in all things space-related that has been attracting the future stars of aerospace since 1987, when Diamandis launched it along with his friends Bob Richards and Todd Hawley.
A few years back, Diamandis read The Singularity Is Near and was inspired to spread its message. He shared it with Richards, who was also fascinated. ("Peter changed his behavior and his diet and started taking the supplements. He drank the Kool-Aid," Richards says. "I drank the Kool-Aid, but I haven't had the discipline to execute yet.") The two began to discuss merging the ideas into ISU but then decided, says Richards, that "the canvas of Ray's ideas was large enough that this could be a university."
Diamandis approached Kurzweil in late 2007. "He got it right away," Diamandis says. By mid-2008, they had hired two S.U. "architects" who, working with Diamandis, organized a founding conference, held that September at Ames. There they recruited sponsors (including Google) and set a general framework. Students would stay on the Ames campus and attend classes just like at college, and the summer session would be split into thirds. The first section would be 10 hours of daily lectures providing an overview of so-called exponential technologies like artificial intelligence and nanotechnology, taught by some of the foremost experts in those fields. In the second section, students would follow specific "tracks," such as Futures Studies and Forecasting (which is what was going on when I sat in on Swan's class), and then split into four groups in preparation for the last segment. During the final stretch, each group was to come up with a project that could affect the lives of a billion people within 10 years and that could be implemented almost immediately. The project was dubbed "Ten to the Ninth Power"—scientific notation for the number one billion. S.U. would have no tests or papers. It was to be more intellectual retreat than actual school.
Wow that is the creepiest thing I've ever read. I had never paid any attention to this despite a few articles here on pop sci but when you actually read through that...
Its not even the tech like uploading your consciousness etc that makes it so inherently creepy. It's the progressive control feel to it. It matches all of the other many past aspects: find a hook, a way in to attract people to it, technology here race relations and enviro in the 60's communism fascism naziism or a dozen little known attempts all of the "new" ways of doing things it doesn't matter just get a hook into them, make it into a "movement", people will do anything for a movement. References to making a difference impacting a huge numbers of people, proudly drinking the kool aid, (a reference to the jim jones mass suicide in case you never knew the original derivation), countless words about change the most important watch word of progressivism.
Indoctrination of curious people into converts to a new semi religion again like back in the 60's. "most lasting influence may turn out to be the alumni network it spawns" that says it all. Get people to become converts they will convert others and so on and behind it is a tie in to the other progressive movements which is just a powerful political alignment like an international meta-party who's main goals are their perpetual power not in case you were wondering the nice sounding ideas they use to convince you to accept it. Think global warming, race relations, for the environment, anti greed etc.
There's a lot more I noticed just in this short article. Creepy stuff, creepy people. The more things change the more they stay the same. That describes progressivism's vision of the future. as long as their the ones in power. Estimated Creepiness level Ten to the Ninth Power.
This sounds awesome, its good that these people are really putting effort into creating technologies that can impact humanity in the near future, and are doing it in a sense of business so that it actually happens. To many times you hear about new technologies and things that can have great benefit to humanity, but will never take off because they don't make a profit.
I guess that the proof is in the pudding... I'm waiting to see if my life is impacted in the next several years by the ideas generated here.
"Printing" concrete houses... who would have thought...
I think Mr Kurzweil should fight back any association with religion. Religion, cults and metaphysics in general are loosing ground with every new understanding of intelligent life, genetics and the ways brain is storing and processing info.
And both Mr Kurzweil and Diamandis should make more efforts in explaining the singularity concepts and implications and the benefits and concerns for all of us. In my view there are huge benefits for all mankind (although society might get deeply transformed) and not just for a cultish group of magnates able to pay cryonics fees.
On the other hand if some people consider this at creepiness level Ten to the Ninth Power, they should better organize themselves to defend the current status quo as billions of people are working daily to make a change which even small fuels the trends towards singularity.
No doubt..the cult feel to the group is spot on...looks like a duck, quacks like a duck...Duck. Who cares about another bunch of sheeple-kooks...it is the ideas which are likely to become fact that have always intrigued. Yes, fact. It is only a matter of time until nanomachines (or some other as yet not fully understood process) produce a version of immortality. Are you ready for it?
I missed the part about Kurzweil taking 200 vitamin/mineral supplements a day in an effort to live long enough to reach the singularity. Genius, yes...smart, no. Any idiot knows that the latest research shows these supplement to provide not only measured health benefit, but actually a slightly higher mortality rate in those who took the vitamin supplements versus placebo. Go figure.
Out of all the schools in the World, i think this would be one I would actually WANT to attend.
Chance Favors the Prepaired Mind...
Undersiege 2 - Dark Teritory
It is hard to give an credibility to someone who believes they can "upload their consiousness" into a machine and achieve immortallity. These sorts of ideas are typically left for the metaphysical folks and not associated with serious science.
It is not possible and never will be. If you make a copy of something it is still only a copy.
For twenty five thousand dollars I would expect more than futuristic daydreaming.
The whole singularity issue is a very interesting one, and though I admit there might be a certain religious touch to it (see also Mitch Kapor's critism), I believe we should not rule out its ideas. For example, mind uploading is not necessarily a topic totally off reality. But in order to assess these expectations (or hopes), we first have to understand how our brains function (algorithmic or non-algorithmic, dualistic or not, etc). SU's idea of enabling big projects is very attractive. For example, peer-to-peer carsharing (Getaround) is also becoming increasingly popular in Europe, see for example www.whipcar.com in Great Britain and www.rent-n-roll.de in Germany. It serves as an example for the new trend of "Collaborative Consumption", meaning that usage of goods is becoming more important than ownership, which was named one of the "10 ideas that will change the world" by TIME magazine.