The name “University” may be misleading.
“University” is reminiscent of classic, dusty and old insitution.
You couldn’t be more wrong.
The Singularity University is nothing conventional, it is not even a physical place. It’s a unique experience.
I got there after half an hour drive from the San Francisco airport and I was immediately catapulted into another world.
A large sign welcomes the alumni standing triumphant at the entrance where a logo makes you aware that you have entered another world: it is the NASA logo.
The campus covers a few square kilometers, an area where you can find objects and buildings, dating back to a few years ago, of some interest: hangar 1, bought by Google to easily park their private jets fleet; bombers of World War II; aircraft prototypes aircraft; buildings where are at work some of the most interesting startups in Silicon Valley.
The days are almost always held inside a building that houses the Singularity Classroom.
A room where, surrounded by 80-inch LCD screens, live webcams and drones, stands the question will bother us for this eight days experience and that, surely, will torment us once back at home:
“HOW WILL YOU IMPROVE THE LIVES OF A BILLION PEOPLE?”
The Singularity University is all here. 80 people from all over the world, who try to give an answer to this question.
Here we are not looking for a quick way to make money, you are not franticly searching for the next billion-dollar exit, here people want to change the world.
Changing the world seems to be the mantra by which everyone wakes up in the morning. It is the belief that drives people to get out of bed and to start their brain.
A high, very high, objective which makes us dizzy and that makes us feel small in our everyday lives.
One after another, the speakers take the stage and lead us to the discovery of what may – or with reasonable certainty will be – the world in 5 years.
They do not give us solutions, but stimuli. Small, continuous electroshocks, which push our neurons to give an answer to that question.
Genetics, 3D production, robotics, artificial intelligence and big datas are nothing more than practical tools to get to that answer.
Everyone is free to choose the best tool to try to answer the question.
Answering the question is not easy, so the experience will not end here.
Once back, we will become Singularity Alumni with the task of sharing the experience to make more and more people try to answer that question.
The most powerful computer in the world is, in fact, the network of human brains connected together to find an answer, a solution.
Not to solve a problem but to fulfill a mission: to improve the lives of 1 billion people.
Usually we are used to think in a vertical manner: there is a digital, robotics, artificial intelligence, genetics and all the other disciplines, old and new.
Singularity University gave us a different view.
These aspects of our future life are converging more and more towards a single point.
Genetics will be applied to industrial products, the creation of more powerful computers, to advertising. The ‘artificial intelligence system will help humans to overcome the barriers in understanding today’s complex data. The robots will not only perform strenuous tasks, but will enter into our body to heal the diseased cells.
Each of these disciplines will change the world and will be interconnected with the others.
It is tiring to get used to such a high vision. And it is also hard being able to imagine the steps that will take us well beyond.
We feel a sense of vertigo – and we’re almost scared – in front of these visions.
But there is one aspect that connects all these visions: their exponential factor.
We can no longer think in a linear way: we must do so exponentially. We need to aim higher, otherwise it’s not worth it. Now the question is: “Are we ready to fly so high?”
At Singularity University in the courses change every time there is a new class, about every three months, to keep up with the times and offer updated content.
This illustrates the exponential change we are experiencing for the first time and how fast it is required to adapt.
If it is true that each of us (in life and in work) has to deal with everyday life and its needs, we cannot stop from having something to aim higher: a dream, a vision.
In order to change the lives of 1 billion people, and therefore our own, we have to aim at the moon.
I do not know if I’m ready to aim so high, but I think there are many people ready to take the leap.
For them, and for the curious, I will try to summarize through my notes and without any pretense of completeness what I have seen and the stimuli that I received. Hopefully they may become stimuli for everyone.
In this way, I hope, the network of people will work as the most powerful supercomputers, and our common energies will be brought to a common factor, that we wake up with the desire to change the world.
HEALTH & MEDICINE & GENETICS.
Lung on a Chip
I enter the classroom without any expectation and the projected slide presents the respirocytes – What is a Respirocyte – microscopic artificial cells that can replacered blood cells in carrying blood to the brain. Useful to breathe underwater, but also to increase survival in case of heart attacks. Who does not want a few thousand in a circle? Well, there are scientists from around the world who are working on it.
Even the mundane medicinal pills are not immune to technological advances: they can be ingested to control the values of our body – SmartPill – and remember you, for example, to take a medicine at a certain time – Proteus
Everything changes. Lungs may be replicated on a chip to test new drugs in a very short time, compared to the clinical trail – Lung on a Chip
Nanomaterials are a reality and the curious can have fun for hours with the largest online database – NanoDB
The nano-silver, for example, makes all surfaces on which it is applied antibacterial; other nano-materials are waterproof – ScienceDaily – and replicate features that mimic nature.
MEDICINE APPROACH WILL CHANGE AFTER MORE THAN 100 YEARS OF PRACTICE WITHOUT ANY CHANGE.
This science has always been episodic and reactive power, but in the next future it will become continuous and proactive thanks to the use of data that can be collected every day with little effort. This will not only give a new vision to consumers but also to physicians, who will be able to share knowledge and data to make medicine more and more participatory.
And if by now the network is mostly made up by human brains working together, in the near future Artificial intelligence will add its potential to the process.
With the latter, you will be able to process a potentially infinite number of information and implement predictive calculations with a previously impossible accuracy.
We are already collecting some of these data through wearable devices that are becoming more common and numerous: there is already a portal that collects them all – BioniqHealth
Other data will be collected from the individual people affected by a disease, which will decide whether to make them public, anonymously, to the benefit of the community. This is already happening for asthmatics – PropellerHealth
The computers will have an unimaginable number of data to be analyzed to identify patterns also collected from devices connected to mobile phones such as SmartphonePhysical .
The devices, smaller and more precise, will also provide life-saving data, an example is VitalConnect that allows you to remotely monitor the patients parameters.
iBGStar will let you measure your blood sugar level, ALIVE CORE will be measuring heartbeat; CELL SCOPE a device that connects to a common smartphone for the analysis of the ear; EYE NETRA a test to be performed on the smartphone to recognize sight defects and prescribe corrective lenses without having to visit the studio of an ophthalmologist; SCANADU scout has created two products for the measurement, in just 8 seconds, of 7 vital signs certified by the FDA (later this year) and SCANAFLO for a urine test you can do by simply taking a photo with your smartphone , IDOC24 that allows you to get a referral to a dermatologist in a very short time.
The period of the long waits in the studies of the doctor before it gets to your turn is coming to an end thanks to ZocDoc with which you will book an appointment directly from your phone, selecting the desired specialist.
NEW “BRILLIANT” POSSIBILITIES.
Genetics and Moore’s Law
We started to study our genes less than 20 years ago, but progress in this area is undergoing an acceleration faster than Moore’s Law. Today, analyzing the complete genome sequence of a person costs less than $ 1,000 and it will cost only $ 1 in less than 20 years, requiring an analysis time of a few minutes.
Already, companies like 23andMe offer consumers services for DNA analysis.
Sequencing our genetic pattern is relatively simple. The hardest part is actually the data analysis, an area where many companies are specializing, describing themselves as an alternative for storing personal data, such as real banks. – Personalis – FoundationMedicine – Invitae – StationX – GenomicHealth
The day this analysis will be done with the same ease as a blood test, people will start questioning the ethics about who will take the custody of these data: the banks? The governments? Specific institutions for the preservation of these, very personal, information? This opens another important debate on privacy.
The data obtained will in fact be not only useful for the prevention of diseases and the interpretation of the physic characteristics, but also for purely commercial purposes.
Manufacturers of beauty products are already commercializing differentiated products based on each consumers genes – DermaGenetics – Geneonyx – and the big multinationals are opening research centers to take advantage of this new information about consumers.
While it is easy to imagine a future in which the products will be different for everyone, because different is genetic, it is difficult to imagine how advertising can exploit this data. However, large corporations are moving in this direction. Think of a contextual Adv not based on cookies, but on genetic information that as individuals we decided to share. Or, suppose you create dating sites profiling people on the basis of genetic compatibility.
The applications seem limitless, and then it becomes understandable that a mantra is repeated several times: you must love your DNA, but protect it and keep it!
MAYBE WE CANNOT PREDICT THE FUTURE, BUT WE CAN TRY.
Cone of Uncertainty
It is not logically possible to predict the future. You can define a cone of uncertainty or probable certainty. To be effective, this cone should be neither too broad nor too narrow.
It is useful to define a method – Sappho – not just to have a certain vision of the future, but to arrive at a reliable prediction with a high degree of certainty.
It begins by identifying your own prejudices, as a basis to take into account when developing a predictive theory. We must also be constantly listening to catch any changes during the observation. You must identify the forces able to determine or change the phenomenon being observed. The forces can be constants (appearing only when vary) or cyclical or even new (too small to be noticed, but massive enough to alter the odds).
Usually it only one force is not enough to induce a change and we must always consider the unexpected ability to disrupt any plan: unexpecrted force have a low probability, but high impact.
In summary, although it is not possible to predict the future, you can define various scenarios on the basis of the cone of uncertainty and prepare to deal with the range of forecasts.
For example, consider the prediction of the number of people who will inhabit the planet in two decades. The most generous plans says 10 billion, the lowest drops to 5 billion. These predictions can be based on different strategies and solutions.
In the end, the important thing is experience: most of the times the cost of the trial is far less than the cost of failure for not having tried.
NEW TECHNOLOGIES AND CHANGES
To implement an exponential change we want to target the “early adopters”, also called “stupid people with too much money.”
They might be, or better we might be, too stupid, but without many people who enjoy walking with one eye facing up, looking at the screen of the Google Glasses, there would be no innovation.
The early adopters and the “free” model, which the Internet has imposed, are the engine of innovation.
The Internet is based on a proven model of innovation with a “stupid” but open infrastructure, which allows and encourages change. Think of the physical network of the Internet: it is nothing shocking. It is a widespread and connected network of cables that allows you to exchange data. That’s it. On this network, however, people have been able to build innovation, new business models and new products.
This simplicity has allowed us to experiment and make mistakes until we could find a workable solution which triggered a change.
The simplicity and the “free” model pushed humans to experiment without the need to find a justification for innovation.
The network branches out more and more, always travels faster, gives access to a growing number of people, making the possibility of bringing exponential innovation. Even the smallest of spaces will be connected thanks to picocells while larger and difficult to reach spaces will be connected thanks to new technologies such as the transmission Free-Space – or Google’s plan to bring the Internet to all through a network of balloons – Google Loon
The same principle described above – “stupid” infrastructure for intelligent applications – can also be applied to our road networks.
The Google Cars are nothing more than the physical representation of what has been described so far on the development of online applications – Google Car test .
Google is not the only company that is venturing into this challenge. Nearly every manufacturer on the planet is looking for new mobility solutions both private and public – Induct – Nissan – Mercedes
It is estimated that by 2020 humans will no longer be driving cars, also solving the tragedy of deaths on the road, still one of the leading causes of death among humans. It is estimated that during the last blackout of Blackberry service, there has been a 30% drop in road accidents.
An exponential change is happening in the automotive industry, which is good to be aware as soon as possible. Even today, buying a car follows the answer that comes from the question “What kind of car do I need for my life?”. This question has only one answer: people are looking for versatile car, covering all mobility requirements, and choose large and expensive car, only to use them for short trips.
The advent of the robot cars could radically change this paradigm. And manufacturers could give many different answers to the question “What car do I need today?”
There will be a car for shopping, one for the holidays, one for the snow and so on. A car for every use.
The auto makers will not only have to deal with the exponential revolution of transport, but also with other business which will change: robots do not park cars for example, or they may take charge of deliveries of goods door to door.
It all sounds easy, but before you fully embrace this revolution, we must consider some of the barriers.
The first regarding your privacy and security. Law enforcement officers may stop and / or “hijack” my car to their liking? And what would happen in the event of system bugs?
There are also more personal barriers, such as a fear of relying completely on a “machine”, the need to establish clear rules and being in the U.S., the fear that terrorists could, very hypothetically, take control of the entire fleet of Google car.
In all this, perhaps our children will never learn to drive – Robotic Vision Cars
THE NETWORK AND THE DEVICE.
intel smart baby onesie
If your network allows speed and accessibility, the devices, becoming even more compact, can be applied to many different areas.
Intel has recently launched a new computer as big as an ordinary SD card – Intel Edison
If the devices that once occupied entire rooms today are so small, it shouldn’t surprise that today they are inserted and connected to the most different objects. And if we “stupid people” are used to bracelets that track our movements, surely amaze us that are already produced onesie with a PC that monitors the condition of the newborn, providing real-time data – Intel Onesie
It surprised us that even accelerometers, applied to pregnant cows, allow you to monitor the health of livestock and get better milk – Cow Accelerometer .
People have always loved their “privacy” for at least two psychological reasons: the first is that when people “feel” privacy, immediately become freer to express themselves. The second is that privacy and therefore the freedom to act are the two aspects of human life that are removed when you want to torture someone.
Nowadays privacy is a concept much more diluted. Every time I upload a document into the cloud I abdicate to the nature of the medium that we use a little of our privacy. There is nothing to what we use today that is totally immune to the risk of data theft.
The American NSA has an unlimited budget available and this has enabled it to spy on us without any problems, using the most advanced technologies. It may even have mapped cells telephone and understood our patterns of movement in the world, with whom we travel, and identified if we are in the company of a potential terrorist.
We take protection behind passwords, but these do nothing but slow down the intrusion attempts. When the quantum computer will be available on a large scale we will have to rethink the infrastructure of security, because the current systems would be penetrable in seconds.
We must be the ones to become aware of how much we share on the network and on various social networks, since they have a long memory and ironically, but perhaps not too much, are the primary source of public information about us – thanks to The NSA Facebook
The most disturbing question is not, however, what happens to our data today, but how they might be used in the future. A future in which the laws may change and we could be prosecuted, or even just taken, have been committed in a past in which they were perfectly legitimate. A future in which agencies like the NSA will have billions of data that can be interpreted in artificial intelligence ever more sophisticated and able to understand the spoken language.
The rules for creating an organization capable of implementing an exponential change are few, simple, and leverage an innate need in humans: competition.
The first rule is to set a goal, great and charming. You have to aim for the moon – Moonshot Thinking
Once you have identified the vision, you must try to reach it. How? With confined and isolated teams: a person in charge with full powers, great organizational flexibility and constant experimentation.
You should not ever stop to think big even in the design of rewards for the achievement of the highest, as was the case for X-Prize
How to find the vision?
Just answer two simple questions:
– What did you love to do as a child?
– What would you do if you woke up tomorrow with a billion dollars in the bank?
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE EVOLVE EXPONENTIALLY.
If at the time of DeepBlue, the famous IBM supercomputer that beat Kasparov at chess everything was based on brute force, or the ability to process huge amounts of data faster than the human brain, now the paradigm has shifted.
We learned how to teach computers to learn and increase their knowledge. How?
We have applied the same principle to the machines that allows the human brain to function, the recognition of a pattern and its application and interpretation in similar situations. Of course, we are still far from the variety of patterns (nearly 300 million) that the human brain is able to process. Computers specialize in the recognition of specific patterns, but the evolution of this scenario is well-defined.
Google has taught his computer to recognize the house numbers present in the panoramic shot through Street View with an accuracy of 98% – How Google Mapped France street numbers
The computer have not been taught all possible and endless variations of photographic representations of a number. The computer was taught pattern recognition which he then applied exponentially to all the circumstances in which it was found in comparison.
Computers, in short, are thought to think and to decode the world with the same principle by which our brain works. We, humans, it is estimated, we have the ability to recognize patterns and about 300 million apply them every day, every second to make sense of the world around us.
The machines will be able to think with the same human logic? Hard to imagine, certainly they will be able apply to the present the same pattern of reasoning and decoding, it is already the case of IBM Watson computer, which has no problem beating the two world champions in Jeopardy, a quiz based on creative associations – Watson Jeopardy
The question that arises is whether the machines will ever have the human “feeling”, the ability to take into consideration before you take an action, the past, the present or the future, but especially the specific context in which the action takes place. When they will succeed in doing that, we may not be able to distinguish humans from machines.
The applications of deep learning – DeepLearning – Rstudio – and the transition from a model based on big data to one based on learning, or of this new programming technique are endless: from medicine to finance, to the world of advertising retargeting algorithms and churn rates for consumers.
There are already companies that make the solution of complex problems as their core business, as Kaggle and others who have decided to make public all the data analysis so that the people, the network brains of the world, can find a way to decode and interpretation more efficient and faster. – Give Data to the People
Computers and artificial intelligence are increasingly similar to our brains, with one key difference: the 300 million patterns that each of us has developed you cannot expand, while computers can have unlimited expansion.
These patterns are those that qualify us and set us apart as human beings. They are the physical explanation of why some are inclined to perform a certain task, while others are inclined to excel in another.
Our brain has physical limits: we cannot, for example, recognize the cancer cells from healthy ones.
The biggest challenge of artificial intelligence is this: being able to expand the capacity of our brains. How? By implanting artificial forms in the brain, for pattern recognition that we are not accustomed to face and making them available in the cloud so that we can download them as necessary.
When? By 2050.
CONCLUSIONS: WICH ROLE FOR HUMANS?
The question that resonates in my mind is: what role will the men have in this scenario. In a near or distant future, where the machines will be able to solve the great problems of the world, what are we going to do?
Perhaps, some say, we will dedicate ourselves to classic activities such as art and poetry.
I choose to believe it, because the alternative is that it will trigger a depressive phenomenon that can lead to serious disasters and disruptions that – I think – today we are not ready to face.