We are living in an age of some truly grand challenges. Consider a few. Approximately 41 percent of men and women will develop cancer at some point during their lifetime, according to the National Cancer Institute. Sophisticated data breaches in 2013 resulted in over 57 million records exposed. Economic inequality is translating into significant gaps in longevity, increasingly separating those who may see the arrival of the technological singularity from those who will never have the chance.
So what do we do in the face of these challenges? We act, collaborate, and enable others to participate. As Peter Diamandis, founder of the XPRIZE Foundation, said in a recent interview, "An entrepreneur is someone who has a vision of what the future should be and then takes action to make it happen."
This is where the singularity comes in.
The singularity is a term at once nebulous and ominous yet embodying an ever-steeper rate of technological change. It hints at impending sociological, economic, and political disruption and foreshadows a transformation in the distant future when advances in artificial intelligence, robotics, cybernetics, and nanotechnology will progress so drastically that we cannot even begin to fathom what life will be like beyond the veil.
Yet contained in this term is the hope that both the quality and quantity of life will improve and individuals will become more empowered to change the world and impact millions, if not billions, of their fellow human beings. The singularity is a recognition that technology has and can continue to be a force of good on this planet—and potentially others as well.
But while it's invigorating to imagine that the technological abundance of Star Trek may only be a few decades away, the more concrete question is, what can we do today to make progress toward this brighter future?
The answer, in short, is forward-thinking entrepreneurship.
Singularity University (SU) was born in 2008 when Peter Diamandis read Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity Is Near, and reached out to him to further discuss the evidence and ideas encapsulated within. The two began a conversation that would ultimately rally successful entrepreneurs, enthusiastic futurists, and powerhouse Silicon Valley companies like Google to help establish the nonprofit organization (now a benefit corporation) at NASA's Research Park near Mountain View.
In the last six years, SU has hosted numerous executive programs where faculty and experts deconstruct how the rapid growth and convergence of emerging technologies, like 3D printing and synthetic biology, will fundamentally change industries. Their global impact competitions have brought innovators to SU's 10-week graduate studies program where participants are tasked with proposing an idea to impact a billion people in the next decade. Startups and initiatives birthed out of this program are further incubated within SU Labs. This technology accelerator supports a portfolio of companies, such as Matternet, which is building a drone network to deliver supplies and medicines to regions with poor infrastructure, and Made in Space, which aims to deliver 3-D printers for additive manufacturing to Earth's orbit.
Technological innovation isn't just commonplace in Silicon Valley — it's happening worldwide in workshops, universities, and companies old and new. SU's independent media outlet Singularity Hub stays on top of the latest daily news in science and technology from these endeavors.
The grand challenges facing humanity aren't limited to technological issues alone. Solving them requires a new kind of forum where a diverse group of globally minded leaders can be inspired by the potential of exponential technologies. A time may come when artificial intelligence enables machines to be far more capable than humans — and not just at Jeopardy as recently demonstrated by IBM's Watson. The future holds promise as more who are passionate about creating a better future opt to participate in finding solutions.
While the singularity is still a thing of the future, some of its principles are being embraced and applied to the increasingly intelligent machines we drive today. Subaru's EyeSight Driver Assist Technology — which includes adaptive cruise control, lane departure and sway warning, and pre-collision braking — gives you another set of eyes ready to keep you safe and alert when you're on the road. Head here to learn more about Subaru's EyeSight Technology.
David J. Hill is the Editor-in-Chief of Singularity Hub.