Computer hackers, Defense Department top brass, and Fortune 500 execs are all in the same Mountain View classroom this week, getting a $12,000 crash course in cutting edge technologies that may change how we live in the not-too-distant future.
It’s all happening at Singularity University — an elite tech institute located at NASA’s Research Park in Mountain View. Unaccredited, Singularity offers programs for graduate students, corporate executives, and people in government in order to “assemble, educate and inspire a new generation of leaders who strive to understand and utilize exponentially advancing technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges,” the university says.
About 80 students are here this week to get a glimpse of the future, with a dozen instructors giving crash courses on technologies growing so quickly that they could potentially touch a billion lives in just a couple of years.
Robotics, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and 3D printing are some of the courses available.
Andrew Hessel is teaching a class on DNA writing. “If you can type, you can be a genetic engineer,” he tells his students. New user-friendly apps let you bang out DNA code like a short story. For twenty cents a base – that is, the individual letters that spell out the genetic code of every living being – boutique DNA print shops can bring your dream organism to life.
“Up to now we’ve only had Darwinian biology and natural selection,” Hessel says. “Now we get to go unnatural. So maybe we can find enzymes that can make carbon into diamond. Not biologically useful, but certainly economically useful.”
Hessel’s PowerPoint presentation shows a hybrid fruit he says can be coded into something with an orange rind on the outside and kiwi meat on the inside.
Guy Fraker, attending the class from State Farm insurance, says this merger of biology and technology will impact the entire insurance field. “As these technologies become mainstream and start affecting people, it changes their behaviors and changes that outcome. So yeah, [they’re] very much about risk.”