Peter Diamandis – Exclusive Video Interview At Singularity University CPM2


Singularity Hub is proud to present an exclusive video interview with Xprize founder and Singularity University Vice Chancellor Peter Diamandis that we took during Singularity University’s CPM2.  As many of our readers know, Singularity University held its second Curriculum Planning Meeting (CPM2) at its NASA Ames headquarters this past weekend.  CPM2 was a two day meeting where the faculty, advisors, and staff of Singularity University convened to discuss and plan the curriculum and the goals for its upcoming inaugural 9 week summer session being offered to 40 amazing students.

Call us biased if you want, but in our opinion Singularity University is going to be absolutely awesome.  The top names in fields such as medicine, AI, and finance are getting together with 40 amazing students this summer to learn, to teach, and to help the world.  Are there improvements that the University could make?  Absolutely!  In the coming years and months the University will continuously evolve and improve. In the meantime, the University is off to a strong start with the vision to explore how accelerating technologies can be used to make the world a better place.

In this interview, the first public announcement of the team project for the summer session, dubbed 10^9+ (ten to the ninth plus) is made.  This bold project will attempt to positively impact the lives of at least 1 billion people within ten years.  Diamandis describes the makeup of the student body for the 2009 inaugural summer session, and generally describes how Singularity University is being born.

Keith Kleiner: Hi Peter

Diamandis: Hey Keith, good to see you.  We’re here at the curriculum planning meeting for the Singularity University.  As I look around the room it really is incredible how many wonderful people we’ve gathered.  Really people I love hanging out with because they are the world leaders in each of their areas and they’ve given the time here to come and give birth to a new institution.  We’re literally writing the DNA code for something that will evolve.  And people say what will it evolve into…well in the back of my mind I remember that Starfleet Academy is based in the Bay Area, so maybe that.

Keith Kleiner: Excellent, very exciting.

Diamandis: Talk to you Later

The Following Day…

Keith Kleiner: Hi Peter

Diamandis: Hey, good morning Keith.  So we’re here at NASA Ames on day two of our second curriculum planning meeting.  Its been an incredible 24 hours.  If I could tell you what’s been going on…so we have this faculty that’s really come together, each of them top in class, and trying to figure out what we should be teaching the students, and how to make sure its really about these convergent technologies and focusing on areas where there is exponential growth vs linear growth.

Keith Kleiner: So maybe you could give people a little background on what this design project…how it fits into the whole scheme of the curriculum

Diamandis: So the curriculum here at Singularity University is broken up into three trimesters.  In the first trimester, the first three weeks of the program, students are going to have their core fundamental lectures, meaning what are the fundamentals of nanotechnology, or AI, or medicine, or robotics, or finance.  I mean, its really going to be an incredible psychological tapas for your brain.  The second three weeks, the second trimester, there is a deep dive where we get together and you focus on a particular subject, and the third trimester your focused on the team design project.  So the students are being asked in this team project to really come together, interdisciplinary…the way I like about it is imagine if someone came in and said to you, you 40 are some of the smartest people on the planet, we’ve got this incredibly difficult problem and we want you to figure it out.  You can imagine the sense of my God we need to solve this problem for the betterment of humanity.  So that is the notion of these 40 people top in their field, future leaders, with all these different tools in AI, and nano, and bio, and and finance and saying how do you come together and solve this problem that heretofore has been unsolvable.  We had a big debate about what the design project should be yesterday, you know…should it be about removing carbon, about clean water, about health care, or what are the big problems that humanity is having to deal with that these exponential tools can have an effect on.  I had a brainstorm this morning on a name for the team design project which has become a good organizing theme that everybody has rallied around.  So the design project name for 2009 for Singularity University is going to be 10^9 (ten to the ninth) and Mike Simpson the president of ISU had an addition to it which is a very important one where he said 10^9+ (ten to the ninth plus) meaning how do we affect a billion people positively in ten years.  So I get excited about that because it means how do we use these exponentially growing technologies to fundamentally effect the lives of a billion individuals on this planet in a positive fashion.  Whether it is giving them energy, clean water, or better health care, reduced carbon emissions, whatever it is.  And so that is a very fun subject and something I think everybody is excited to be part of.

Keith Kleiner: So now of course in a 9 week session they’re not going to truly solve this problem, or at least implement it, so how after the 9 week summer session do they take this 10^9 idea and make it a reality for the world?

Diamandis: So, you know, I believe that while you can’t solve the problem in 9 weeks, there can be the birth of a core crystalline idea that makes all the difference in the world.  It doesn’t take but an inspirational flash to have a concept going oh my God, what if, you know….Google was born on that…you know, what if you ranked pages not by some other thing, but by how many other pages linked to it.  A core simple idea.  The Xprize was a simple idea about an incentive prize….so maybe we’ll have those core ideas that are generated.  And then the students by virtue of this global network that they’re creating can take the idea self organize and go forward and continue to implement it.

Keith Kleiner: Fantastic.  Can you tell me what is the lineup looking like for the students…what do you expect for where they are coming from, and what their academic backgrounds will be and so forth?

Diamandis: One of the biggest bright spots in Singularity University is in fact the student body that has come forward.  Within 60 days of announcing Singularity University at the TED conference this year in 2009 we’ve had over 1200 pre-applications that came in, and we’ll have probably four to five hundred full applications for 40 slots which is incredible.  I’ve looked at some of the applications and know some of the people applying, and they are top of the game.  They are entrepreneurs, grad students, they are heading research labs, they are individuals who I would love to spend 9 weeks with.  They are coming here to have a game changing event in their lives.  So it is going to be extraordinarily difficult to choose those 40 students.  Hopefully the ones that don’t get in will come back next year when we expand the program to 120 students.

Keith Kleiner: Singularity in 50 years…yes or no?

Diamandis: Ha hah!  No, because I think its going to happen sooner than that.

Keith Kleiner: All right, thanks for your time

Diamandis: Pleasure

Disclosure: The Hub’s Keith Kleiner is an associate founder of Singularity University