Helping 1 Billion People in Under Ten Years – Singularity U Completes Inaugural Year

Today marks the final day of the inaugural 9 week summer session of Singularity University, and what a finish it will be.  40 talented students with impressive academic and entrepreneurial backgrounds have spent the last nine weeks attending lectures and workshops, debating ideas, and meeting with luminaries in the academic and business worlds.  Later today I will attend the closing ceremony of the summer session in which students, faculty, and staff will officially commemorate the completion of the program. Although the summer session is coming to an end, the future of Singularity University has only just begun, and the future looks extremely promising.

Planning and application procedures for next year’s much larger 2010 class of more than 100 students is already well underway.  In addition, Singularity University will be hosting its 3 day and 9 day executive programs every month, starting this November, and applications are now being accepted.  Demand for the programs has been off the charts – applications have been constantly streaming in since the University began accepting them only days ago.  Check out the promotional video of the executive programs below:

Singularity University (SU) is an interdisciplinary university “whose mission is to assemble, educate and inspire a cadre of leaders who strive to understand and facilitate the development of exponentially advancing technologies in order to address humanity’s grand challenges.”  With this goal in mind, the 9 week summer session has culminated with the 40 students breaking into four teams – each team given the ambitious task of incorporating their knowledge of exponentially advancing technologies into a proposal that will positively impact the lives of more 1 billion people in less than ten years.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of being one of the judges as the four teams presented their proposals to a room full of distinguished academics, entrepreneurs, and distinguished individuals.  The four proposals were each creative and groundbreaking in their own way, offering fascinating new ideas to improve the lives of individuals worldwide:

The first team to present, team Acasa, proposed the development of a gigantic 3D printer that could literally print an entire house by extruding cement.  It might seem kinda crazy at first, but after seeing the presentation in person I have to say that the idea is interesting.  Across the world more than 1 billion people live without a proper home to provide shelter, plumbing, and safety.  Team Acasa claims that 3D printing of homes can change all this, enabling simple homes to be built in as little as 24 hours.  Homes could be built at 1/3 the cost of conventional methods and benefit the environment by using innovative materials to sequester CO2 and by sourcing materials locally.  Best of all, the technology already exists and simply needs to be commercialized.

Next to present was team Xidar with its proposal to revolutionize the field of disaster recovery.  According to team Xidar there is a golden window of 24 hours after an earthquake or other major disaster when thousands of lives can be saved or lost depending on whether proper treatment and triage can be allocated to those in need.  By developing phone applications to provide crowdsourced information about the location and status of those in need as well as those in a position to provide help, team Xidar proposes to radically change disaster response.  The application can be supplemented dynamically with critical information, such as fire extinguisher locations, rendevous coordinates, etc. to give those in need the information they need to survive.

Team One Global Voice proposed leveraging the proliferation of phones in developing countries to enable citizens to build their own economic prosperity by enabling them to build SMS based applications on an open access platform.  Simple applications such as telling whether a train is on time or running late could be developed entirely for SMS text based communication, providing vital information and tools for individuals who do not have consistent access to 3G phones or even internet connected computers.

Finally, team Gettaround made an interesting proposal to revolutionize the car transportation industry with its novel platform to enable individuals to initiate peer to peer rental of their cars.  Given that most of us only use our cars perhaps 1 or 2 hours in a 24 hour period, there are significant stretches of time during which we could be earning money on our cars instead of allowing them to depreciate.  When first hearing about the idea individuals will instantly point out that people will not want to rent their car out to a random person.  But after hearing the full pitch from team Gettaround and their solutions for overcoming such misgivings, you might be as convinced as I am that this idea could really take off, greatly improving the efficiency and environmental impact of car transportation.

Despite my positive description of the team projects above, it is clear that any one or even all of these proposals might be failures.  Each proposal has several holes that could lead to its downfall, so it will be interesting to see if any of these proposals actually leads to a full scale commercial solution in the coming years.  Of course the entrepreneurial makeup of both the students and the staff of Singularity University means that several patents and companies are already in the works as a result of these proposals.

Now that the summer is drawing to a successful close, the seed has been planted for Singularity University to grow and further advance its mission over the course of the next year.  With backing from Google and NASA, and with a constant influx of the biggest names in technology, science, entrepreneurship and law passing through, the University has established itself as a new and important place for great minds to share ideas and propose new solutions to the world’s problems.

Singularity Hub Staff
Singularity Hub Staff
Singularity Hub chronicles technological progress by highlighting the breakthroughs and issues shaping the future as well as supporting a global community of smart, passionate, action-oriented people who want to change the world.
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