Saturday, 7 March 2009


It is the role of the Venture Capitalist to take a medium term view of the economy and the needs of people and businesses.
So it is fun to read what is commonly called 'futurology' as a way to challenge one's ideas of how our commercial ecosystem will evolve.

An early influence on me was Lyall Watson, who died last year aged 69. He wrote a series of books ('Supernature' being the most famous) that discussed supernatural phenomenon and spent sometime considering the likely future evolution of the human race. One essay I recall reading was comparing the complexity of the global telecommunication network to the complexity of the human brain. It was a kind of enjoyably gentle 'nuttiness' that would provoke good after dinner conversations. Not serious though, only useful in the same way as science fiction might be to a working scientist.

It is into the same camp that I would put Raymond Kurzweil, only perhaps replacing humor with hubris. One of Raymond's books, 'The Singularity is Near' talks at great length on the idea that the constantly accelerating rate of technological change will soon become self sufficient, and human beings will become a passenger to technical evolution rather than a driver. It is not a good read though, combining the dullness of a (selective) technical survey with a poor simulacrum of 'Godel, Escher, Bach'.
In fact, in a 2007 interview, Douglas Hofstadter, the author of GDB compared his ideas to a blend of very good food and "the craziest sort of dog excrement".
Well, he said it, not me!

So it was with some surprise that I read of the creation of The Singularity University.
The role of the singularity university is to take a series of 10 super short modules in 'high technology' such as nanotechnology, specialise, and then do a project, all in the space of 10 weeks.
The faculty has a few Engineers and Scientists on it. It also has Aubrey de Gray, Chairman and Chief Science Officer of the Methuselah Foundation, of less certain acedemic pedigree, and a bunch of 'chief evangelists' and venture capitalists.
So its not really a university.

Then what's it for? The SU website declares its mission as follows:

A number of exponentially growing technologies (bio, nano, AI, info, etc.) will massively increase human intelligence and capability and fundamentally reshape our future. This concept, known as the technological Singularity, as advanced by Ray Kurzweil, warrants the creation of an academic institution whose students and faculty will study these technologies, with an emphasis on their interactions, and help to guide the process for the benefit of humanity and its environment.

Vint Cerf (Google's Chief Evangelist) says:
Creating a network of future world leaders across the range of exponentially growing technologies addressed by Singularity University will have profound implications.

So its more like a mission control for members of the 'Kurtzweil club' sent forth to save man-kind.

There is no doubt that the problems we all face today are verging on the insurmountable, but I do find it strange that such a dubious group of 'free thinkers' should be given credibility in this way, with state backing from the United States Government (they are part funded by NASA).

No comments:

Post a Comment