The Singularity is Near

Sunday 15 June 2014

As I am writing these lines I am about to land in San Francisco. In a few hours I will start my next BIG adventure – however, this time its not so much a physical one (no mountain to be scaled, no ocean to be crossed), but rather an adventure of the mind: I will attend the summer program at Singularity University (SU). It all started with a short conversation I had with my good friend Cristina back at christmas which was enough to spark my interest in an institution whose stated aim is to “educate, inspire and empower leaders to apply exponential technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges.” Wow! It was founded in 2008 by Ray Kurzweil (an inventor, futurist (awesome job:) and author of the bestseller “The Singularity is Near”-> hence the name) and Peter Diamandis (the founder and chairman of X-Prize Foundation). The project got great support from institutions like Google, Autodesk and NASA (the university is physically located on a NASA research campus in Mountain View – right next to Google). SU’s summer program aims to produce projects that can positively impact a billion people in ten years by leveraging exponentially advancing technologies. My problem – only 80 participants per year are taken with more than 10,000 applying (!) – even worse: the application deadline was a mere week away. I went into overdrive- trying to find previous participants and generally everybody who could help me giving me an insight into SU. At the same time I did some sort of inner soul searching – trying to figure out what I personally could contribute to the program. It all culminated in a 2 minute video clip, where I described why I should be a part of the chosen few. I submitted my application fifteen minutes before closing – tight as always! Then nothing – for weeks and months I didn’t hear anything back. I had almost forgotten that I applied (making already different plans for the summer), when I received an email mid april requesting a phone interview. I prepared (I was really afraid I gonna be asked about artificial intelligence or nano sciences…!) and was more than stunned, when it was just a nice chat….. well, ten days later an email from Ray Kurzweil confirmed my participation (!!!) Yes, I was in… (and about to become a geek)? The last few weeks left me just enough time to wrap up all my open projects in HK, move out of my flat and into storage and well, only a little bit prepared on the pre reading (I managed it up to page 120 of Ray’s book) I will check into the NASA campus shortly… where hopefully tons of new frontiers are waiting. It feels a bit like when I moved to London 14 years ago, entering a total new world! Stay tuned for more on the Singularity, exponential technological and geeky Silicon Valley… this time also regular updates on twitter @paulniel78 First Postscript three hours later: I have started already a Marathon group – first run was along the largest vacuum wind channel in the world (huuuuge!) and across the Google Campus Golf Course. This was followed by a discussion about the application of quantum mechanics in data mining while watching Italy beat England at the World Cup…. now its off to the bar 🙂

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