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This university targets the world's most pressing problems

February 04, 2009

Consider this: An intensive 9-week, 10-day, or 3-day programme involving ten future-looking technologies and disciplines.

If you are interested in the 10-week course, you need to be a super-smart graduate or at least a post-graduate.

You qualify for the 10-day course if you are a 'rising star executive' who wants to add to your knowledge and network, says a cnet.com report.

The three-day version is aimed at CEOs and CEOs.

The idea is to give the give executives a look at what is in the lab today and what is likely to hit the marketplace in the next five to 10 years, says X Prize chairman and CEO Peter Diamandis, co-founder of the brand new academic institution Singularity University.

The subjects include future studies and forecasting; biotechnology and bioinformatics; nanotechnology; AI, robotics and cognitive computing; and finance and entrepreneurship; networks and computing systems; genetics; policy, law and ethics; medicine, neuroscience and human enhancement; energy and ecological systems; space and physical sciences -- the curriculum, clearly, is not for the faint-hearted.

The first phase will is a series of plenary lectures in which all students take the same coursework and learn together about each of the 10 disciplines.

In the second phase, students will choose one of the 10 disciplines -- different from the one they already specialise in -- learning together in 10-person classes.

The final phase will involve a team project that all the students will work on together.

The 9-week course, which will be held in June, will host around 30-odd students, but is expected to expand to 120 students in the years to come. The classes will be held at NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. The courses are not cheap; the 10-week version will cost $25,000. If you can't afford it, don't lose hope; full and partial scholarships will be available.

The 10-day and 3-day programmes will be available through the year.

The university's founders -- inventor, futurist and author Ray Kurzweil, former Yahoo Brickhouse head Salim Ismail, NASA Ames director Pete Worden, co-founder of the International Space University Robert Richards, ISU President Michael Simpson and Diamandia -- hope the course will result in the creation of new companies, the evolution of scientific and technological thinking and the solidifying of professional and personal networks among the highly-accomplished students and faculty.

Diamandis adds that if the university did its job correctly, the students -- who came from across the globe -- would possibly take on, and make progress, in understanding and applying fast moving technologies to solve the world's 'grandest challenges,' including hunger, global warming, alternative energy, telemedicine and more.

In fact, the university is named after the idea of singularity -- an extremely rapid period of technological progress.

Kurzweil -- whose best-selling book on the subject is called The Singularity Is Near -- will be teaching some of the future studies and forecasting classes, while Diamandis will be helping to build the curriculum and teaching where he is needed.

Paul Saffo, a Silicon Valley-based forecaster, will be a faculty members for this annual summer programme. He is also helping organise the future studies and forecasting track with Kurzweil.

Technology heavyweights, including Internet pioneer and Google Vice President Vint Cerf, are slated to give the lectures. Students will also have the opportunity to listen to, and interact with, Will Wright, the creator of Sim City; Robert Freitas, a leader in the development of nano-robots; Stephanie Langhoff, chief scientist at NASA Ames; and Peter Norvig, chief of research at Google.

And here's a homely touch -- Rohit Khare, former director, CommerceNet Labs, and founder, Angstro Inc, amd Dharmendra Modha, manager, Cognitive Computing, IBM Almaden Research Centre, are also part of the faculty. Salim Ismail, who is the university's executive director, is from Hyderabad, India.

According to Business Week, Google has become a founding sponsor of Singularity University, and several company executives, including company co-founder Larry Page, are either on the faculty or are university founders.

The magazine adds that the campus is 'just a few miles down the road from Palo Alto's Sand Hill Road, a locus of venture capital. Venture capitalists will be part of the faculty, and there will be a 'pitch day' toward the end of the programme when students can try to attract funding for a proposed business.'

Applications and course and faculty details are available at the university's website (www.singularityu.org)

Singularity Universitywas founded on September 20, 2008 at NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, California. It is modeled after the successful International Space University, founded at MIT in 1987, which has become one of the leading interdisciplinary, international and intercultural institutions for the study of space.


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