Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Singularity University

What follows is excerpted from, and an expansion of, a comment I made regarding this Future Blogger post.

Cross posted to Scenario Land.

First, what it shouldn't be. There are already an abundance of technology/science academies in existence; one more would simply be complicating an already over-engineered wheel. That said, Singularity University (SU) absolutely should arrange (ie: buy) access to those school’s technical curriculum via tele-presence if nothing else.

SU should primarily be modeled after the historical liberal arts education of the 19th century (particularly the English university model of Oxford, Cambridge and the like). The objective being to teach students how to think for themselves by providing them with the lessons learned by previous generations. There is an expression I use, "How can you decide what's best to do next without knowing what has already been tried?" Practical knowledge of what has been tried, whether it succeeded or not and why provides one with a reference within which to frame a decision.

There is a long-running debate in the US (with variations in other countries as well) regarding the desirability of individual competence over governmental providence. It is rare for the argument to be expressed quite so blatantly, but this confrontation is always fundamental. In the context of today's topic I will only say that the transition from a human-centric industrial society toward the promise inherent to the singularity concept is certain to be made more disruptive by an expanding dependant class of people then would be the case if the population trend was toward greater personal competence instead. I believe that preparing this potential market ought to be the initial focus point of any institution that seeks to advance society toward a seamless transition with singularity events.

Once a baseline of individual competence has been achieved through completion of the SU under-graduate curriculum, I think it reasonable to expect that SU graduates would go on to gain advanced degree’s in at least one primary area of specialization and quite possibly two or more additional fields of interest or utility (for only one example, exploration will still be a viable human occupation I think, whatever capability future robots might achieve). While most people will quickly find some initial occupation (using that word in it's subsidiary meaning, "An activity engaged in especially as a means of passing time; an avocation." The Free Dictionary), I feel certain that most will at some point develop a desire to become an expert in one or more areas of study.

There would need to be a technological infusion throughout the instruction process since the student is assumed to be preparing to excel in an environment that largely cannot be predicted. That said, the curriculum would primarily concentrate on preparing students to transition from a human-centric labor economy to a cybernetic/robotic labor economy. A recurring question that arises whenever the singularity concept is discussed is that of people's on-going need to fund their existence after technology has made them redundant as laborers (whatever it is they may actually "labor" at). I believe that a singularity university ought to have as its primary motivation the goal of providing the circumstance in which each student (which will be all of us eventually - and probably serially) may discover the answer that applies best in each individuals circumstance.

Alan Turing was a very smart fellow, but his famous test for sentience doesn’t really address spontaneous imagination very well. Is the AI really making something entirely new up or simply drawing on its store of human history to present known data in some obscure but unoriginal format? Since most cerebrally unenhanced humans would be unlikely to recognise the difference (if a story is new to you, what matter if Aristotle told it first?), SU should be structured to develop that innate human capability for spontaneous originality and imagination. It is this quality that I believe will be key to people's achieving their continued source of livelihood during what will inherently be an unstable time for everyone to some extent. We will develop a commerce in the originality and emotional stimulation we are each capable of creating within each other. Long after our technology "relieves" us of our present occupation, we will be able to exchange worth for value with each other, although I predict we will have to strenuously "encourage" our governments to cooperate with instead of impede the transaction.

SU should also be structured from the outset as a model for near-term transition to the traditional high school student market. This can be most readily accomplished, I think, by making SU’s curriculum as available to home school students and private/parochial academies as financially possible to arrange. Along this line of thought, SU should create a “traveling road show” of cadre that stage 6 to 9 week “Skills Camp” instruction anywhere they can be arranged. These would consist of group interaction and physical training that incorporates the historical and physiological courses of instruction the students are studying (basically, military boot camp for intellectuals without the overt nationalistic indoctrination).

There should be at least one initial physical campus (I would expect an exponential growth of regional campus’s to develop), but for the most part local satellite campus’s should consist of a small office, a clerk or three and a tractor-trailer load of servers with a (several?) T-1 connection (or it’s future technological equivalent).

Those actually involved in creating the proposed Singularity University no doubt have their own conceptual vision as to what and how such an endeavor should be formed. I can only hope that theirs exceeds mine own.

No comments: