Singularity University chapter to launch from Dubai

Exponential technologies will help solve ‘humanity’s grand challenges’

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For those who have not heard about Singularity University, it is a benefit corporation learning institution located inside NASA Research Park in Silicon Valley whose stated aim is to “educate, inspire and empower leaders to apply exponential technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges.”

The good news for those interested in technology and the radical changes in work and life as we know it, SingularityU Dubai Chapter is set to unveil its activities soon.

Paul Epping, a serial entrepreneur and since two and-a-half years years consulting principal at Philips Healthcare and based in Dubai. He will be heading the Dubai chapter of Singularity University (SU), and plans to launch joint initiatives with like-minded organizations, groups and individuals in the UAE and the Gulf region.

Singularity University was founded in the summer of 2009 by Peter Diamandis and Ray Kurzweil. Diamandis is an international pioneer in the fields of innovation, incentive competitions and commercial space exploration, while Kurzweil is an inventor and futurist.

In 2005, Kurzweil published his book ‘The Singularity is Near’ in which he examines the union of human and machine, in which the knowledge and skills embedded in our brains will be combined with the vastly greater capacity, speed, and knowledge sharing ability of our own creations.

He defines ‘singularity’, as an era in which our intelligence will become increasingly non-biological and trillions of times more powerful than it is today —the dawning of a new civilization that will enable us to transcend our biological limitations and amplify our creativity.

Although the social and philosophical ramifications of these changes will be profound, ‘The Singularity Is Near’ maintains a radically optimistic view of the future course of human development.

Epping went to SU in the Executive Program in March 2011, which is aimed at corporate leaders. Being the second batch of around 40 drawn from around the world, he was exposed to the ideas of exponential innovation and became an early ambassador of SU methodology.

Exponential technologies are those which are rapidly accelerating and shaping major industries and all aspects of our lives. Exponential technologies include artificial intelligence (AI), augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR), data science, digital biology and biotech, medicine, nanotech and digital fabrication, networks and computing systems, robotics and robocars and energy.

Epping recalls that it was early days at SU then, having been launched in the summer of 2009, and they were trying to find the right dynamics and areas to focus on.

As the programs at SU started to expand and began making an impact, Epping kept in touch with the peers in his batch and spread the knowledge by performing numerous presentations.

With annual conferences focused on exponentially accelerating technologies, SU has expanded in areas like medicine, finance and manufacturing, he says.

For example, the annual Exponential Medicine conferences in San Diego headed by Daniel Kraft, tackles everything related to healthcare technology and innovation. Under Kraft’s leadership, the Exponential Medicine program at SU explores convergent, rapidly developing technologies and their potential in biomedicine and healthcare.

10-week summer Global Students Program

One of the programs that SU conducts is the annual 10-week summer Global Students Program focusing on areas where they see big challenges worldwide, and work on solutions to impact in a positive way at least a billion people in the next 10 years in areas like education, food, energy, transport and healthcare, using technology.

SU has also been expanding its network and maximizing their impact by setting up Chapters all over the world led by Singularity University fellows, with Dubai joining the list.

Epping who took up his posting at Philips in Dubai last September, has already been the Chapter leader in Eindhoven in his home country Netherlands. Permission for a license to set up a Chapter has to come from Singularity University and only those with an alumni status are allowed to build a chapter.

Chapter leaders then build a network of people who do understand the impact of exponential technology, and who do understand the dynamics of exponential technologies in organizations.

“We want to spread the word so that people have a better understanding of what exponential technologies are and their impact on our daily life. Human beings are linear thinkers, but exponential technology happens at a faster pace than anything mankind has experienced before. We are in the midst of that era and not many people are aware of how it will impact society, and how to engage with upcoming technologies like Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality (AI and VR), Robotics, Nanotech, Digital Biology and 3D Printing,” says Epping.

In areas like solar energy, exponential technology is making change happen at a faster pace than ever before. “Everyone would have access to free power.”

“At a predictive point in the future, you would not be able to distinguish between natural and artificial biology. Computers are already more advanced than human beings in many areas but lag in social areas, being linguistically challenged now. But that hurdle will be overcome soon,” says Epping.

“In the intersection as technologies merge, the pace will even be faster. And once the growth of technological capacity gathers pace, it becomes cheaper, as is now happening in the field of solar energy, where power will be available universally for free. Another area is computer technology, where data storage, bandwidth, speed, mobile solutions are becoming cheaper and will dematerialize (camera, video, navigation, etc. merged in your smartphone, are for free),” he says.

But then there are ethical questions as well. How far can you go? Implanting sensors, DNA modifications or in terms of labor, there will always be that dilemma as Artificial Intelligence takes over and will take over many jobs in areas such as accounting, banking, transport, healthcare, education, building or agriculture.

Epping feels that there is not enough attention paid to these issues. “We also need to understand that, while we are changing so fast, we don’t know what kind of jobs will arise around the corner. It poses also a challenge for educational institutions. Most of the present education is based on old thinking. Students need to be trained in coping with rapid changes and focusing on solution finding. Success in the future will lie in flexibility. To see opportunities and to find a way in the rapidly changing world.”

“The current young generation are digital natives, unlike our generation. We are the digital immigrants. The Singularity University lets participants work in groups on challenges you see in society, and how to overcome that… You will touch on various topics, the impact you want, how to go about it and the costs involved. It’s a very different education.

“The changes for example that are happening in healthcare will be revolutionary, where it will be more personalized and delivered closer at one’s own home. That means you do not need that many big hospitals. The focus will be on acute care and surgery. The goal is to discharge the patient as soon as possible and continue the care at patient`s home. Patient`s vital signs and progress of recovery will be monitored in a safe way by special trained healthcare providers in monitoring centers. The will act adequately if there are deviations in trends,” says Epping.

SU is trying to solve world challenges so that it will impact a billion people. “As a result of the proliferation of technology, we are living in a world of abundance. We can create a lot that is affordable, based on Information Technology.”

There are dangers too, Epping reminds us. “When everything will be digitized, it will be hacked too. There will be a symmetrical escalation in hacking. And that is what we see in digital warfare already taking place now.”

“At the same time, cultures can live in harmony. We can work on disappearance of hatred between religions and bring a positive energy. If we collaborate in a neutral way, we will achieve more. With information available everywhere and going through borders of countries, the present mode of politics and governance structures will also fade rapidly. What does that mean to governments? For many public organizations and institutions, it can be frightening, especially with changes in financial and insurance sectors.”

These kind of topics and issues are discussed at SU by organizing roundtable summits where experts talk openly, and around discussion groups.

SU also organizes Global Impact Competitions to come up with solutions for the world’s biggest problems like food, water, diseases, privacy and security. Summits will address topics that are important for the Middle East.

At the SingularityU Dubai Chapter, we want to bring an understanding of Singularity University’s principles to organizations who want to have a deeper understanding of the impact of exponential technologies on their business.

For further information, regarding SingularityU Dubai Chapter, you can reach out to: dubai@chapter.su.org