Chronicle of the Singularity University Italy Summit 2017

Singularity University (SU) is a think tank and educational institution in Silicon Valley that offers educational programs and works as a business incubator. Its differential feature is that it explores the limits of scientific progress and “exponential” technologies, especially the technological singularity where the explosion of artificial intelligence has to take us. It was founded in 2008 by Peter Diamandis and Ray Kurzweil at the NASA Research Park in California. I heard about it a couple of years ago and especially after going to a Salim Ismail conference in Barcelona.

The SU organizes international summits, two-day events around the world, co-organized with local partners, where networking is made and visions of the changes that positively impact the world are shared. Speakers are usually members of the SU or alumni who work in the territory where the event is held. Also businessmen or professionals of first level sympathizers of the SU.

It should be noted that the general vision of the SU regarding the impact that exponential technological change has on the world is always very positive (great improvements for humanity and society), with a very exaggerated techno-optimism and a naive tone.

From the eLC we are convinced that many of the exponential changes that are taking place in technology and society will profoundly affect education. It is within this context that I attended the summit of Italy, in Milan at the end of October. It was an event of about 1000 people with a score of very inspiring talks. I have made a full review of the talks but here I make a summary of those ideas that I think affect us more directly as an educational institution.

 

Exponential future

An era of unstoppable change is foreseen. The pillars of the networking society are shaken – for the good of humankind – from the exponential explosion of technologies, which are already mature; new business models appear and existing rules are broken. The whole life of humanity has been formed by local and linear progresses and now we are going to a global terrain and of exponential growth. The disruption it will cause (it will be brutal) is an opportunity and the key is the convergence of exponential technologies. We must take technology be risky innovating, without losing sight of values, ethics and preserving the essence of humanity.

New companies

Exponential companies are those which understand or will understand this change (also universities?). In the beginning, we must be ambitious and have an ambitious vision for it to be a purpose of massive transformation (MTP). More than efficient companies, you have to create companies that learn and take risks. In order to learn you must be able to fail.

Artificial Intelligence and Robotics

AI in addition to robotics will cause a great labor change in 5 years. To survive in this future we must learn to “dance with the machines” in a perfect man-machine symbiosis. Anyway, it is not sure that the machines will take away our work, but working with robots will help us a lot. We must ginger up, otherwise disruption will leave us out of the game. The future is, clearly, robots and humans working together. Humans are there to ask questions and machines are made to answer. We must learn to ask and to teach children to live with robots.

Innovation

The best way to foresee the future is to provoke it. To innovate, smart innovation teams are needed: you do not have to invent and develop things from scratch, you have to look for them and combine them (smart integration, they call it). There are always “lego pieces” that allow us to create what we want. To innovate, it is always better to choose to create ecosystems. They advise that if we want to try some innovation in a business model, we must create a startup of our own company, creating a group of people who work “on the border” and making them grow in the margin of the corporate “antibodies”, protecting them. Warning: Disruption almost never comes from the industry itself.

Future of work

The same technology that can take away our work can help us to reinvent ourselves. Currently the labor market is geared towards efficiency, to define and standardize tasks, to integrate them. But this standardization and elimination of inefficiencies can be done by an algorithm, it is a matter of time for machines to do so… and what if machines take all the routine work that humans do? We must exploit the properly human capacities! Therefore, they advise to educate and to train in skills and values: creativity, curiosities, innovation and passion! even more than educating in technological knowledge (STEM). We must help students finding what they are passionate about and see how they can live from this. The big question is how to educate to lead the new utopia, the utopia that the exponential future brings to us. They advise to risk and shift things to the current educational model.

 


Guillem Garcia Brustenga is Director of Reseach and Trend Analysis in the eLC and author of the book La Reina Roja. Siete entrevistas a expertos sobre la función de la educación en la sociedad líquida  of the Outer Edu collection available here.

 

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Guillem Garcia Brustenga
Guillem Garcia Brustenga is Director of Research and Trends Analysis in the eLC of the UOC. Senior Telecommunications Engineer by the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (1997) he helds a Master's degree in Multimedia and both postgraduate degrees in Business Administration and Project Management.
He has been involved in the management of several UOC technology projects in innovation areas related to the Internet as a facilitator of the University's educational innovation from the eLearn Center. He is currently looking for creative solutions to boost the translational research on e-Learning in the UOC and solutions to reinvent the concept of Research Center in a virtual environement. He is interested in innovation models and strategies, in the digital transformation of companies, in arising opportunities and in the effect that technology has -and the exponential growth it causes- on individuals, society, the labor market and education.

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