4/7/11 1:19 AMWhat Traditional Scholars Can Learn From a Futurist's University - Technology - The Chronicle of Higher EducationPage 2 of 7http://chronicle.com/article/What-Traditional-Scholars-Can/48369/
Both men are known for thinking big about the future and forstarting companies that capitalize on their predictions. And bothare, well,
in their views of how radically different things will be in just a few years. Mr. Kurzweil, for instance, just co-wrote
a book in which he argues that technology will soonallow us to replace our DNA with tiny computers that we canreprogram to help fight off diseases.Many of the 40 students who made up the inaugural class said they agreed with some (though not all) of the founders' beliefs, but they appeared far more interested in learning what makes them tick asentrepreneurs. Spending quality time with Mr. Kurzweil and Mr.Diamandis—and with the famous professors on the summerprogram's roster—was a key reason several students cited forshelling out the $25,000 for tuition. As one participant put it: "This is what we're actually aiming for—to absorb as much of the genius as we can."Demand for the program was stratospheric, with more than 1,200students applying to fill 40 slots, according to the institution'sleaders. That makes the program more selective than HarvardUniversity. And Singularity University isn't even accredited.It's all evidence that the university has touched a cultural nerve,playing on hopes and anxieties about how technology is changingsociety—and tapping into an urge to more actively shape thatfuture.Those same forces are leading professors at traditional universitiesto explore similar questions. A high-profile meeting of computer-science professors this year, for instance, explored the potentiallong-term dangers of computer technologies, with an eye towardshaping policies to avoid the worst-case scenarios popular inHollywood movies like
Singularity University is itself an innovative approach to education, bearing more in common with a fast-paced start-up company thanan ivory-tower university. Some of the professors here—many of whom teach at traditional colleges during the year—said traditionalhigher education can learn from the entrepreneurial venture.