Archive for February, 2009

Singularity University: one possible future for graduate education?

Ray Kurzweil

Ray Kurzweil

It’s not often that a book has the power to spawn an entire university. This seems to be the case with Ray Kurzweil‘s book  The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology (2005), a futurist discussion of where technology is leading us and an update sequel to two previous books of his: The Age of Intelligent Machines (1987) and The Age of Spiritual Machines (1999).  In an in-depth article on the 2005 book, this Wikipedia article defines the Singularity as “a point in the future when technological advances begin to happen so rapidly that normal humans cannot keep pace, and are ‘cut out of the loop’.”

Most people would probably agree that technology is advancing so rapidly that we’re increasingly subject to information overload, but Kurzweil’s main thesis is basically an extension to Moore’s Law;   that technology is accelerating at an exponential rate and will soon get away from human control.

In a scenario that could only happen in America, a group of educators and scientists have established an entrepreneurial university backed by NASA, Google and the  International Space University, to be funded in part by venture capitalists and based largely on the ideas presented in Kurzweil’s book – then made him the university’s Chancellor.


Peter Diamandis

Singularity University aims to attract the world’s top graduates, who will study across disciplines, in subjects such as A.I., robotics, nanotechnoloy, bioinformatics and finance and entrepreneurship.  In this promotional video, vice-chancellor Dr. Peter Diamandis explains where the original idea for such an institution came from, where they’re headed,and promotes some lofty ideas about addressing the world’s major challenges.  To quote Ray in the video:  “The goal of Singularity University is to get the best minds in these information fields with the best students in the world.  Both will contribute to each other and we will basically foster a deeper understanding of how we can solve the world’s major problems.”


AMES Research Park

Initially, the university will run 9 week summer sessions from the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.  The emphasis will be on introducing grad students to other, complementary disciplines, presumably to foster a synthesis of ideas through cross pollination.

While the notion of using technology in an altruistic way sounds very appealing, I’m concerned that tying research to profits means there will be a price to pay at some point, no matter how fantastic the output that the university’s promoters are trying to produce.  As one example, corporate sponsorship of pharmaceutical research can result in drugs that are of minimal benefit, that have side-effects that rival the malady in their voracity, and end up being over-prescribed by GPs who fall victim to a barrage of promotional advertising from the drugs companies keen to recoup their original investment.  This all sounds a little forced to me, more of a “pressure-cooker” approach to research than a community of practice drawn together by common goals.

(images of: Ray Kurzweil sourced from here, Peter Diamandis and AMES Research Park sourced from here)

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Social Mapping with Google Latitude


Google Latitude

Google Latitude is either a fantastic browser add-on that will bring you and your friends closer together than ever, or a civil libertarian’s Big Brother nightmare, allowing users to track the movements of their employees/relatives/spouses/children down to the metre. Here’s an article in Wednesday’s Sydney Morning Herald that takes the cyber-stalker angle (in the headline at least) on this iGoogle gadget release.

Latitude uses GPS, mobile phone tower data or manual position settings to map subscribers onto a Google Map. The map display can be viewed on a GPS/Web-enabled mobile or PDA, or on a desktop browser. If installed on a desktop machine, users need to have an iGoogle account running Gears, and an optional Profile. The position of subscribers (who opt in to the system) is calculated with either GPS or tower data or is manually set to a Google Map location by individuals. You can download the gadget and add it to your iGoogle page here.

Implications for Ed Tech
I think this type of software has the potential to expand a learner’s view of the world, particularly if used in an international context. Students from different locations could locate themselves and their exchange counterparts on the world map, adding another dimension (geographic location) to the learning context.

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OK, so WordPress now has Blavatars (blog avatars). That word is about as appealing as incentivation, or those Hollywood couple composites thought up by scandal rags, like Brangelina or (even worse) Bennifer. Given that blog itself is already a contraction can I claim Blavatads (blog avatar dummy-spits) as a genre represented by this very post? Hmmm? I didn’t think so…

SDXC: More storage than you can poke a stick at

SDXC Card An earlier post of mine discussed the introduction of USB 3.0 as a means of transferring large amounts of data very quickly but made only a brief mention of where the large amounts might be stored. The capacity for large solid-state storage just increased dramatically with the SD Association’s recent CES show release of a new SD card format: the SDXC standard. The XC part means “eXtended Capacity” and in the case of this type of device we’re talking about a maximum of 2 terabytes of memory storage and maximum read/write speeds of around 300 megabits per second, (the first releases will move data at around 104Mb/sec). The devices will use NAND Flash memory and are due to be released sometime in the first quarter of 2009. Panasonic’s first SDXC release will have a 64 GB capacity in the form of a SDXC Memory Card.

An early-adopter audience for this card would have to be photographers who will soon have the capacity to store 4000 RAW images or 17,000 high-res images, all on a single, standard-sized SD card. Other devices that already support the SD standard include mobile phones, camcorders and PCs, so expect to see a change in the services offered through this hardware in the very near future.

(image sourced from here)

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