Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Singularity University: "Silver Spoon U" Searches for Solutions

Silver Spoon University
“From slime, life. And still, after over 50 years, new ingredients for the potion.”

Singularity University announced its exciting launch yesterday, as Google, NASA and controversial futurist Ray Kurzweil unveiled plans for the elite global institution’s ten-week summer course to participants at Moffet Field in June. The best part is that participants get to orbit the exclusive course at a special 21st Century Depression discount of only $25,000 per person.

Will Singularity University put a carbon nanotube in every pot? Or not?

One glaring speck of moon dust that stands out about this stealth and exclusive “institution” is its patronage and affiliation by and for a selective group of global corporate elites who “want to use technology to solve the world’s problems.” Kurzweil adds that Singularity University is poised to "foster the leaders who will create a uniquely creative and productive future world." He is credited with devising the concept of the school in his 2005 book "The Singularity Is Near."

John Timmer at Ars Technica also takes a closer look at what the “Singular” is and wonders if the New Singularlity University may overpromise the infinite. Indeed, many questions surround the new “institution” for “international” elites who will pay $25,000 for a 9 or 10 week summer course which also offers a year round, three-day and 10-day program for a pre-selected group of CEOs and global corporate executives.

Many questions abound about Singularity University including its exclusive mission, with a few vague concepts to crack like “post-human future”… What does that mean?

Timmer elicted a number of great comments with excellent questions, two favorites of yours truly below:

"Those start at the top, with the very concept of a singularity. The effort owes a great debt to Ray Kurzweil, who speaks confidently of a period of exponential technological growth. But Kurzweil's perspective hasn't met with universal acceptance; by some measures, recent decades have seen technology developments slow down. The growth that has occurred has also been very unevenly distributed, making the idea of a general singularity seem a bit questionable."

“Uh, that's (the above) being charitable, JT. Kurzweil is a crank. His single greatest ability is self-promotion. I have no idea why anyone pays attention to him at all.
The whole concept of a Singularity University is ridiculous. Why on earth is NASA involved?” –divisionbyzero

And this

“Although I have doubts about this particular university, the probability of something looking like a singularity still may happen pretty much at any time:- Scientist may finally crack cold fusion, meaning an almost endless supply of cheap energy.- A process for making cheap Nanotubes may be discovered at any time, same thing for room temperature superconductors etc...The point is that there is research happening in all these fields, so all it takes is for one research group to make a breakthrough (or be extremely lucky and stumble on one). After all the discovery of semiconductors was only a lucky accident and look how it changed the world. It may happen again...” –Erlik

How many SU rocket scientists does it take to change the War on America’s White Collar Middle Class? As Jeanna Bryner reports in this excellent LiveScience article entitled American Dream and Middle Class in Jeopardy, “the middle class as we know it may go the way of the dodo.” Bryner digs deeply into the social and political ramifications of how an increasingly very large percentage of income and wealth is being recklessly concentrated in the hands of barely one percent of the American people in conjunction with the alarming decline in wealth distribution to America’s white collar middle class:

Such concentrated wealth was seen right before The Great Depression, said Richard Levins, professor emeritus in the department of applied economics at the University of Minnesota. "And then it gradually became spread out more during the 60s and 70s. "By the 70s, we had a very different distribution of income and wealth that, in my view, favored middle class."
But by 1980, Levins said, "that trend has gone back the other way to where we have a very large percentage of income and wealth in the hands of barely one percent of the people."
The average worth of someone on the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans is currently $3.9 billion.
When you have that kind of wealth in very few hands, these people become politically and economically very, very powerful," Levins said.”

To date, SU has made no mention of any kind of boring course offering to address the startling, increased rate at which the corporate elite class is picking the pockets of America’s white collar middle class. As Levin explained to Bryner:

“you can gauge the robustness of the middle class by looking at how evenly distributed the income and wealth is in the nation. So a top-heavy distribution would favor the rich, not the middle class. If you accept that as a measure of how the middle class is doing, I think it's clear the middle class was growing through the first part of the 20th century and declining toward the latter part of the 20th century."

SU claims it is interested in incorporating the studies of “finance and political leadership.” Maybe they can invent an earth shattering solution to stop what our greedy corporate “leaders” and enabling politicians have done to the American middle class -- who have exchanged paying them money with loaning them money and replaced their jobs in favor of international, cheap workers.

With SU’s corporate mission statement and lofty goals of reaching beyond the stars for solutions to “address the world’s problems”, maybe this institution by and for the elite, upper one percent can add a class to start inventing ways to put the locals, first, back to work. They could call it “How to Stop Otherworldly Elites from Pick Pocketing Income from the American Middle Class.”

With millions of white collar Americans being non-stop pink-slipped into oblivion from Silicon Valley to Manhattan to Mars, perhaps the “best and brightest thought leaders” who wish to merge “finance and political leadership” with technology at Singularity University can develop an invention to scale their otherworldly, cost-prohibitive class down to solving challenges down to the local level.

Now that would truly be reaching for the stars.



Citizen Carrie said...

Lots of random thoughts.

Is Singularity University an upscale version of the University of Phoenix, for those who are just too busy to take a few advanced courses at MIT?

I can just see BRAINWASHING written all over everything. Why am I reminded of the Biosphere Cult when I read that story? Will graduates be wearing green jumpsuits at the graduation ceremonies with impressive SU patches sewn on their left breast pockets?

I don't run across Ars Technica too often, but this is the second time in about a month that I've noticed writers coming out of there who look at things with a skeptical eye rather than just acting like cheerleaders for every press release that comes their way.

Normally I don't care what a bunch of out-of-touch crackpots do with their money, but when it becomes a series of events that deprive the majority of Americans from their livelihoods, then it's up to the 2Truthies of the world to step in and call these people for who they really are.

2Truthy said...

"Is Singularity University an upscale version of the University of Phoenix, for those who are just too busy to take a few advanced courses at MIT?"

CC, it is anything but. Whereas U of Phoenix is available to all, SU is an invitation-only sponsored affair marketed at global elites, by Google & Friends Elites.

The US is broke and American corporations now want a piece of the educational pie. Attracting foreign money into their pockets via marketing such 'institutions' as SU is one way to do it. I also see the brainwashing element, alright.

The really creepy private educational "institutions" like the IBO that you have written about are in many ways an even bigger problem.

The private, foreign IBO comes to America and sells their "programme" into the public school districts and Joe Taxpayer is forced to pay them for it, whether they like it or not. Even if most of the taxpayer's kids never take any of their "programmed" courses, talk about our government selling us out to the World Bank! It's outrageous. When's the revolution?

Chino Hills California said...

"the singularity humor" (all lower case because I am either a spammer and/or moronic seo hillbilly) is a BRILLIANT term.

why didn't I think of that? (cuz i am a pants sniffster cretin, that's why.)

Mister Grifter said...

Has anyone noticed how U.S. local community colleges are drastically cutting their class/teacher budgets but RAISING tuitions for average middle class citizens and 'offering' all sorts of online classes instead?

"Online Education" is an oxymoron.

Anonymous said...

For me SU is another brainwashing sect similar to Scientology- hidden under the cloak of futurological jabber. You can't change the world by making trips and seminars. It is a crap and only an idiot can believe in such.

2Truthy said...


Much like Scientology, yes, in the culty dept. with a "futurological jabber" (good one!) Sci-Fi twist.