This was the exact question I had searched on Google a few months ago. At Polish Development Fund I am responsible for managing the innovation process inside the organization as well as creating education programs for future tech entrepreneurs. I have led a team for the last couple of years and, as an individual am always eager to learn, I too was looking for my own inspiration in this area. I was considering different courses, ideally, a summer program that would deepen my knowledge of innovation in today’s world, and one that will challenge me whilst working in an environment alongside other executives. This would present me with different perspectives on both my professional and, to a certain extent, my personal life. My CEO suggested I should check out Singularity University. So I did.
Once I decided to enroll myself in this course, I wanted to write a summary of that program in Silicon Valley. The purpose of this summary is to reach out to those who may Google the same question in the future.
Before arriving, I knew that we would learn different perspectives on the future and how it will impact our world. I was looking forward to exploring some technologies and how to understand the implication that these technologies will have on our economies, communities and personal health and wellbeing. And so we did—we kicked off with an artificial intelligence and robotics session learning about business applications, future directions of the technology and ethical challenges that come with AI.
Ethics actually was at the back of our minds during the whole week—we all are convinced that artificial intelligence has proven to be quite effective at practical tasks but if we feed AIs bad date or make errors with internal programming, the AIs can make mistakes and even be harmful. Just giving an example of Microsoft’s AI chatbot, Tay, which was released on Twitter in 2016. In less than one day, due to the information it was receiving and learning from other Twitter users, the robot learned to spew racist slurs and Nazi propaganda. From day one we talked about the two sides of the coin regarding modern science and technology.
Every day we had 3 to 4 inspiring presentations, followed by questions and open discussions. This structure inspired us whilst being given time to make some “notes to your future self”. On top of this, there was an experimental workshop by Dan Klein who launched at Stanford class called Beginning Improvisation, a great interplay between failure, uncertainty, and collaboration—a core of startup life.
As Chief Innovation Officer I was familiar with most of the technologies that were presented but I must admit that I was not aware that the future is “really so now.” I was not aware, for example, that a Chinese scientist managed to alter a gene in the embryos to immune the infection of H.I.V., nor that we can implant pre-existing memories into people’s brains, nor that engineers in Silicon Valley are already working on brain implants that allow machines to understand human thought in real-time. I found it particularly interesting that we will be able to add a microchip to our brain in the future, enabling us to process more data. So far only phones are our only brain expender and we still need to find a better interface to immerse technology. That is basically what Jody Medich works on—she creates superhumans, she uses cognitive computing (AI, AR/VR, robotics, sensors, etc.) to speak human. Not a bad person to learn from?
Actually, each person that stood in front of us on the stage was very special. They all combined top University work with real business experience which made them very authentic in our eyes and allowed them to show us what Silicon Valley is working on at the moment.
My notes are full of things I should follow up on. We covered topics from global public health, digital manufacturing, future of governance, energy and environmental challenges, finishing in the space.
By the way, Ray Kurzweil, in the picture below, Singularity University founder, whom we had a chance to listen to, already knows what will happen when we connect our brains to the cloud…
One of the strongest assets of this program were the people who attended. There were 70 of us, from all over the world—amazing leaders from 5 continents having different backgrounds. (…) What do you do?—I run a bank in Indonesia, I lead Gates Foundation in India, I used to be Minister of Finance—just to name the few superstars. I was amazed how each of them was open to others and how engaged in the course they were—you should see some discussions—my favorite was to see some traditional bank representatives challenging the lecturer about future of money and bitcoin.
I will definitely be in contact with some of them!
The whole experience was extremely well organized! From day 1 we were taken care of and had the whole days planned. To start a day fresh we could choose from morning Yoga, personal training and Bootcamp sessions. Classes started at 8 am and finished at 6 pm. During breaks we could taste some food tech innovation like Huel, Soylent, Beyond Meat burger, new food products from algae and famous cricket protein chips. In the evening there was a possibility to try Glyph, the first whiskey made form molecule up that supposed to be biochemically equivalent to the finest aged whiskey.
Lecturers always stayed a few hours after the classes, so there was a chance to dig deeper into the subject that would interest you more. Additionally, there was The Exhibition Center at the campus where we could see the Singularity University Startup Community projects and try to talk to robot Pepper, not mentioning Computer History Museum and Palo Alto “selfie guided tour.” Yes, they kept us busy! Special thanks here to SU’s Chipp Norcross who was always ready to brainstorm some new ideas and was really there for us!
Be curious and open-minded
As one of the lecturers said, exponential technologies have fundamentally transformed our capacity to change the world. However, our moral psychology evolved over hundreds of thousands of years has remained fundamentally the same. Thus the question: How can we assure that our technological capabilities do not exceed our moral capabilities?
And I’m sure each of the participants brought home some key messages for themselves. My top takeaways included:
- We should have a conversation about the future because we still can have such a conversation.
- We need to be useful to each other. We should tell stories to each other. We should collect such stories.
- The more things you can implant the more things you can hack.
- Fast gets all our attention, slow has all the power.
- The best way to predict the future is to create it.
So was it worth it? Let’s see how fast the planted seeds will grow. As Tony Robbins said in a recent talk with Peter Diamandis, Executive Founder and Director of Singularity University—people always overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in a decade.
Big thanks to everyone who made this time so special for me!
Eliza Kruczkowska is the Chief Innovation Officer of the Polish Development Fund. She attended the Singularity University Executive Program in October 2019. We regularly feature posts from alumni and community members who share their perspectives and experiences.