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Singularity University: You, too, can study the future


Just how special is your intelligence? If you're a unique kind of smarty-pants, you can go to Singularity University, a program launched this week with the lofty intention of tackling "humanity's grand challenges."

Peter Diamandis, a promoter of personal space flight, got the idea while reading Raymond Kurzweil's 2005 book The Singularity Is Near, which discusses the merging and rapidly advancing areas of bio, nano and information technology. Singularity's students — world leaders and CEOs, its founders hope (perhaps appropriately, given the $25,000 tuition for nine weeks of study) — will contemplate those heavy subjects and how they can be used to improve, not harm, humanity.

"We're at a point where we can apply these exponentially growing information technologies to address the pressing problems of humanity," Kurzweil, the university's chancellor, told the San Francisco Chronicle. "Health and medicine. Poverty. Democratization."

Kurzweil announced the university yesterday at the Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) conference in Long Beach, California. Some 40 students will make up the first session at NASA's Ames campus in Silicon Valley, where they will stay in dorms while increasing their knowledge quotient of the technologies for research, business and policy endeavors. Singularity hopes 120 will enroll next summer.

Kurzweil has written at least two pieces for Scientific American. He talks about biotech's transition to an information science in a 2006 article and, in a 1999 piece, he predicts that artificial intelligence will one day exceed human smarts.

Image of Ray Kurzweil/Helene Delillo, courtesy of Kurzweil Technologies, Inc.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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