Yesterday was the first day of the Singularity University summer session. I was at the NASA Ames campus throughout the day to witness and record the event on video for the Hub (see highlight video footage at the end of this post). The energy at the University is absolutely thrilling. Its hard even to convey in words. Tons of smart, motivated people are gathered to discuss, debate, and learn about the intersection of genetics, solar energy, computer networking, and other accelerating technologies. Undoubtedly one of the highlights of the day was when Ray Kurzweil sat before the students and staff for more than an hour, allowing anyone to ask him questions and share ideas and thoughts. Such an opportunity to interact with the luminary is but a small sample of the rare and stimulating experiences that Singularity University will be able to offer its students this summer.
I hesitate even to call the 40 attendees of the University “students”, for this term brings to mind images of youths in high school or undergraduate studies that are still at the very beginning of their learning curves. Nearly all of the 40 attendees of Singularity University are at the Ph.D level or beyond in their professional and academic careers. Visiting scholar or simply professional might be a more appropriate term.
The University is a new entity, and as such it is creating traditions and customs as it goes along. In a presentation to the students and staff, Peter Diamandis presented several ideas aimed at creating a sense of community and tradition within the University. A class ring, inscribed with symbolism and geekiness (the year is written in binary) will be given to each of the students and staff. A class t-shirt will be designed and also a class poster. Will a school song emerge at the end of the summer? How about a student created yearbook, online or otherwise? It is up to the students and staff to decide on these traditions as they plot out the important first year of Singularity University.
A slew of team building events and activities are in store for the students, and yet their timing and even their exact nature is still being defined. Proposals include a sort of talent or tech show where students will volunteer to present a unique object, skill, or piece of knowledge with the rest of the class. Given the caliber of individuals attending the University such a show is sure to uncover some pretty interesting ground. Another event will be the “machine building” challenge, in which students will be divided into teams of 8 and given a large box of random components. Teams will be given 6 hours to build a singularity rube goldberg device of 32, 64, or 128 moving parts to perform a specified objective. Of course events and activities don’t have to be abstract or sensational. There will be plenty of ultimate frisbee, night parties, and pranks to fill in the time in between the intense lectures, debates, and workshops.
Singularity Unversity (SU) is modeled after the successful International Space University (ISU) and it is not a coincidence that ISU is also being hosted this year at the NASA Ames campus in Silicon Valley. The SU students and ISU students will have many opportunities to interact socially, further enhancing the academic and social experience for both schools.
Singularity Hub will have more coverage in the coming days and weeks.
Disclosure: Keith Kleiner is an associate founder of Singularity University