New university founded by Google seeks brightest minds for interdisciplinary R&D

[4 February 2009]

By Mike Swift

San Jose Mercury News (MCT)

entrepreneurs in fields like artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, and genetics to help the planet. The venture, to be permanently based at NASA’s Moffett Field, Calif., is being announced Tuesday.

Just as NASA’s moon shot in the 1960s combined quantum advances in computing, rocketry and material sciences into one dramatic technological achievement, Singularity University would try to build bridges between separate towers of knowledge - and perhaps spawn a few new Silicon Valley companies in the process.

“We are bringing the top future leaders from around the world, early in their careers, to Silicon Valley, and that’s a big deal,” said Diamandis, whose X Prize competition led to SpaceShipOne, the first successful privately developed spacecraft, in 2004.

The summer program at Moffett Field will seek out young graduate and post-graduate students with the strongest leadership and entrepreneurial skills.

In 2007, Diamandis teamed with the Mountain View Internet search giant to offer the Google Lunar X Prize, a $30 million competition for the first team to send a robotic lander to the Moon. Google is the founding corporate sponsor for Singularity University, contributing $250,000. The founders expect tuition to be about $25,000, but aid would be available.

The name for their new brainchild is drawn from Kurzweil’s 2005 book, “The Singularity Is Near,” which argues that human knowledge in computers, genetics and other information-driven fields is growing at an exponential rate, and that human life will be utterly transformed as the curve of increasing knowledge steepens. Kurzweil argues that technology will obliterate the current limits of human existence - perhaps even the limits on human lifespan.

The goal of the nine-week summer institute at Ames, to start in late June with an initial class of 30 students growing to 120 in future years, is to recruit people hungry to learn about other disciplines.

Unlike many universities, the program would not conduct traditional research, but would aim to brainstorm “Team Projects” that would take on humanity’s “grand challenges,” according to the university’s web site.

There would be an international, as well as interdisciplinary focus, and one goal would be to develop a network of future leaders in government and science.

“One of the objectives of the university is to really dive in depth into these exponentially growing technologies, to create connections between them, and to apply these ideas to the great challenges” facing humanity, said Kurzweil, the new university’s chancellor.

Diamandis, who came up with the idea for the university after reading Kurzweil’s book, teamed with the futurist and took the idea to Pete Worden, director of Ames, who said the venture builds on the tradition of innovation for the NASA base.

Singularity University, which will also offer short courses to business leaders year-round on the frontiers of technological change, will draw faculty from Google and other companies, as well as universities.

Students would come from disciplines as divergent as robotics and genetics, for example, and would be expected to work together. “We don’t see this as competition with Stanford or Berkeley or MIT,” Diamandis said.

But just as those universities have spawned countless startups in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, Diamandis predicts Singularity University will do the same, and the program would aim to connect students to the Valley’s venture capitalists to pitch their most promising ideas.

“We expect many of the students that are coming to Singularity University to have an entrepreneurial bent,” Diamandis said, “and we expect companies to spin out of the university.”



The Singularity University website will be live starting Tuesday at

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