Singularity University: An Innovation for Innovations

by francine Hardaway on August 28, 2009

NASA Ames Research Center Singularity University, which says it’s preparing humanity for technological change, is holding its first closing ceremonies here at NASA Ames Research Center.
I know NASA isn’t what it used to be, but it’s still way cool to be here at Moffett field. I got invited by Salim Ismail, who is heading the program. Ismail used to run Yahoo’s Brickhouse.

The first Singularity U clss, GSU ’09, graduated this morning.

The program starts with Daniel Kraft and Holly Abrams playing playing”SU Opus 1″ on the piano and cello. The accompanying presentation says “9 Weeks to change the world.” I don’t know enough about this; I’m here because Salim invited me and I felt honored. Belatedly, I prepare (during the music. Who says people can’t multi-task?)

Amidst a serious economic downturn, a small group of visionaries has launched a new educational venture called Singularity University. Singularity Co-founded by inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil, X Prize chairman and CEO Peter Diamandis, and former Yahoo Brickhouse head Salim Ismail, Singularity University represents a new academic institution that has little in common with a traditional university.

This is beginning to sound awesome.IMG_0465

Singularity was born in 2008, announced at TED, and has already graduated a class. That’s a pretty compressed development cycle. Of course it is backed by…angel investors, with a few corporate partners like NASA, Google, and ePlanet Ventures.

The graduates had to create a project that would affect a billion people in 10 years. They had to work on projects that would address large world problems. At least six or seven companies will be launched. The class president is from Israel, the child of Iraqi parents. He’s 27, and an advisor to Shimon Peres. He gives a mind-blowing speech about two ways of looking at the world: that we inherit it from our parents vs. we receive it as a deposit from our children. The inheritance view encourages preservation, while the deposit view values innovation.

One of my heroes, Ray Kurzweil, takes the podium, talking about the power of inventions to change the world and people’s live. He says the rewards are not the important part — (they are like clay to the sculptor.) The two best parts of invention are working collaboratively with a passionate group to create the invention, and then watching the idea go out in the world.

Kurzweil has seen the presentations and says they will indeed change the world. He also says the community has been created, too, and that community will also change the world.

The inaugural projects (Conceived and launched in 9 weeks) were presented more professionally than most teams I see who have experience in presentations and far more time
ACASA – Sustainable housing construction for developing countries, using automated rapid manufacturing.
Xidar – Rapid Disaster Response Technologies- a constellation of technologies to communicate, triage, and treat disaster victims that addresses current gaps in data technologies to turn smart phones into lifesaving devices.
OneGlobalVoice – a cloud platform to help people in developing countries develop SMS applications for 2G phones “packet switching for people” will change transportation from possession to accession! The world’s first peer to peer car-sharing service will be like ZipCar meets EBay.

I’m jealous. I wish I were involved. It’s a university for change agents.

Applications are already open for next summer, and for executive programs.

Graduation Ceremonies

Graduation Ceremonies

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Salim Ismail September 1, 2009 at 11:05 am

Francine, great post – really glad you could make it.

One small correction is that I'm technically not a co-founder (some news articles have referred to me that way). This was Peter's brainchild that he took to Ray and the original foundation was laid down by Bruce Klein & Susan Fonseca. I got involved at the founding conference last September and have been running it since November.

It has been an extraordinary experience, to say the least.

Look forward to chatting more about it!

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