“Uber yourself before you get Kodak’ed.”
And Other Highlights from Singularity University
Uber and Kodak are two companies whose names show up in pretty much all books related to the singularity and exponential technologies. Kodak collapsed nearly overnight after inventing the digital camera while underestimating the power of exponentials and believing it would take them years before digital was a threat for the company. Two months after they filled for bankruptcy, Instagram was bought by Facebook for $1 billion. The difference between these two companies is an exponential mindset.
If I take 30 large linear steps (say three feet, or one meter per step) from my Santa Monica living room, I end up 30 meters away, or roughly across the street. If, alternatively, I take 30 exponential steps from the same starting point, I end up a billion meters away, or orbiting the Earth 26 times. And this was exactly where Kodak went wrong — they underestimated the power of exponentials.
—Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler in Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World
Bold, Abundance, Exponential Organizations, and The Singularity is Near give us a good summary of what Singularity University is. It’s been a week since I joined the Global Solutions Program, a 10 week program with a group of 80 amazing individuals from 40 different countries .(And I mean it when I say amazing; students have built a telescope out of ice in Antartica, eliminated side effects of cancers, and began running an organization and providing food for homeless people at age 15.)
What makes this place special?
- Being at the NASA Research Park in Mountain View is quite an experience, but being in the heart of Silicon Valley surrounded by the most advanced technology and brilliant people makes a difference too.
- The kind of things you probably have only seen in the movies are totally normal here. People talk every day about going to space and doing all kinds of stuff there.
- The human potential here is unbelievable and the impact that can come out of it can really be a game changer.
Imagine a school where there are no grades nor exams. You can do what you always wanted to do because no one is watching. This is Singularity University.
During the program we will be combining the latest technologies with the world’s biggest problems (or Global Grand Challenges) having lectures, workshops and classes during the first 5 weeks and working on a project after that. But until then we need to learn how to think exponentially.
Building the Exponential Mindset
Technology is changing at an exponential pace (Moore’s Law has been applied to technology in general to describe this phenomenom) but we still perceive the world as being linear.
One of the most frequent words used to make us embrace this new way of thinking is moonshot. We are trained, allowed and encouraged to think in moonshots. Here are some interesting examples:
- Extending the human lifespan: the future of healthcare will allow us to live longer. What about you being able to decide how long you want to live?
- Increasing access to resources: there could be a ton of examples here but space is the one that is most common. What if we could all migrate to space?
- Addressing the Global Grand Challenges: learning, water, health, food or energy are just examples. What if we could make these resources abundant?
Highlights from my First Week at the Global Solutions Program
I will try to put some of the things I have been learning into words although I believe that is going to be a challenging job. Just by reviewing the notes I took during the week I can tell that, it’s really difficult to capture the essence of all amazing lessons and convert them into paper notes. The first week included:
- Spending endless hours in the classroom (scheduled activities go from 8:45am to 10pm every day) consuming information about computing power, AI, energy, nanotechnology, digital biology and the future of medicine
- Playing with arduinos, sensors, robots and VR
- Dedicate 1h a day to wellness and mindfulness (this is a core area of the program)
- Seeing Obama and Air Force One land in our backyard