Singularity and Exponential Technology in Aerospace and Startup Culture

On the advent of Hallows Eve, space and astronomy enthusiasts convened for an exciting Space Talk with Sidney Nakao Nakahodo, a recent summer fellow of Singularity University ’15. Sidney N. Nakahodo is a lecturer of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. He has an extensive background in international economic development and has received his education from Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), The Kiel Institute for the World Economy, and the University of Sao Paulo — Polytechnic School (Poli-USP). He is a co-founder and an advisor of NewSpace NYC and a number of other technology startups.

This is my portrayal of the current climate of outer-space commercialization through applications from Earth in response Sidney’s talk.

Singularity, a formerly low-key ideology in the midst of Silicon Valley’s culture now gaining momentum in popular culture. Its effort aims at joining Google and NASA Ames on their future mission that marriages business and venture pursuits with the outer-space industry. Singularity University, located in NASA Ames Research Center, Silicon Valley, is gaining publicity in the public realm, which is an indicator that innovation is no longer a niche demographic interest but is beginning to be widely accepted universally. The meta-science behind Singularity is the concept that with the technology boom, will coincide innovation such that machines can be trained to conduct human activities through machine learning. This would entail in the collision of technology and human as it becomes one entity, indistinguishable from each other.

Such ideas are purported by the Trans-humanism and Post-rational humanism endeavors which engage Sci-Fi like technologies and human innovation.

Environment does influence the success of the individuals and even relatively, a startup, as one entity alone. The fellows of this year’s Summer Singularity U participants, had a welcoming opportunity to learn, discuss and plan innovation technology with experts in their field. Ray Kurzweil, co-founder of Singularity University, recently joined Google to “work on new projects involving machine learning and language processing.” This allowed him to leverage Singularity University. Google has provided full coverage for the courses, the trip and travel by providing funding through scholarships to the recent ’15 summer graduates. With such an enriching environment, one may ideally find singularity as their one cause at this erudite establishment that collaborates with individuals from diverse fields, ranging from science, academia and technology. The infinite possibilities and aptitudes for innovative technology may sprout and flourish on the very fertile grounds of Silicon Valley or entail in failure.

The geographic placement of these flourishing companies in Silicon Valley provides endless opportunities for everyone situated in its vicinities. On the very grounds, Stanford University is situated within walkable distances to Google Inc. and NASA Ames. This location hosts a fertile crescent for many technology startups. Innovative ideas and thoughts are conceived and grow right in the heart of this geography, at Singularity University. It is reasonable to wonder if this actual location in Silicon Valley hosts a nurturing environment for innovation and technology and whether this geographic and physical location alone renders this tech culture. Is it possible to replicate this inclusive culture to the bustling and investment reared culture of NYC or it this physical space just a one in a million chance of a flourishing technology bubble?

We can observe whether space enthusiasts can build appropriate and functional equipment for space exploration, with or without funding and guidance from NASA, with sufficient resources, human endeavor and intelligence. But obtaining grants from NASA for promising technologies is also efficient for these startup companies.

Mr. Nakahodo described the closed culture of the space startup industry. Google Inc. is literally around the corner from NASA Ames and Stanford, employees and faculty indirectly participate in and contribute to the sheltered technology hub. Some tech startups do get funded through Singularity U or Ames. But others merely exist in this physical vicinity. Startups potentially may benefit in other ways if not exposure to abundant networks and resources. The aerospace startups may also benefit from their placement in this technology bubble to at least network, resources and enrichment.

I became curious on who is actually making money versus applications that only are promising ventures. Venture capital markets calculate how much a startup and company would be worth in value, even if that company isn’t profiting through revenue. Despite this challenge, aerospace commercialization and democratic space startups are at the early growth stage and provides avenues for commerce, economics, entrepreneurship, development, research and soon enough government while still holding on to its title as the final frontier.

Many of these startups share similar Earth bound technology, resources and applications. However the excessive trend in similar technologies will create an inevitable bottleneck. The major areas that Google is invested in created “exponential technology” might have to be delayed since the money is ventured. Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) are just on the brink on development and even before its inception, entrepreneurial leader, Elon Musk, and software maverick, Bill Gates, share hesitancy that also concerns people from all over the world regarding AI. But some might speculate it’s too early to predict the outcome of these startups. Recently, congress passed a bill to enable space mining and there aren’t regulations inhibiting efforts in space commercialization.

As someone with policy reformation background, I can spot many holes and prospective problems which can arise. But as a lifelong student and scientist passionate about science, you might find me supporting the space ecosystem and joining my talent in efforts reared towards my love of astronomy.

Many of these startup companies rely on angel investment and undergo a process of fundraising to operate their business. They are proposing technologies which they are still trying to deliver. The few startups who are delivering their technology have Earth-bound services such as imagining, research and development. One may speculate a number of imagining satellite companies which are sprouting out and offering similar services. CubeSats, for instance, are providing avenues for research and development. CubeSats are small cube-like boxes (ranging in configuration) which provide space for an experiment and is shipped off to the ISS, where an astronaut conducts the experiment and places the equipment back into the CubeSat, to be returned to Earth for investigation. CubeSats allow government, companies and universities to conduct experiments in a zero or near zero gravity environment, allowing them to possibly obtain different data and results. Data will enable researchers to propose better products and services such as pharmaceuticals and implications in biological sciences.

The technology climate is hostile as these startups are classifying their technologies to themselves. The very nature of some of these start-ups are repetitive in concept, and we still have to wait till the next “Apple Inc.” or “Google Inc.” is born. It is inevitable that many of these startups will provide inadequate technology.

Until unique and exponential technology can become accessible for all, many of these will stay in a bottleneck, sharing similar ideas even while closing their networks due to competition. In 20 years, the human race may achieve singularity but until then, these ecosystems are playgrounds for innovation.

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