Antecedents of Singularity University: Unity in Diversity

Photos courtesy of X PRIZE FoundationThe Singularity University vision: Bringing together smart people from many disciplines to seek and hopefully find common intellectual ground, and collaboratively brainstorm to solve global problems with technology is exciting, though not unprecedented. In reflecting upon what Peter Diamandis said during our interview, other endeavors reflecting similar ambitions and approaches came to mind. While Dr. Diamandis cites only International Space University as an inspiration, SU might be seen as one of a School of Schools of Schools. Here are six that come to mind:

  1. MASSACHUSSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY: William Barton Rogers incorporated MIT in 1861, and got it going in 1865 after the Civil War. The original proposal includes sentiments that are remarkably similar, for something written 147 years earlier, to the SU ideal. “The practical nature of the discoveries…of scientific inquiry has multiplied almost infinitely the lines of connection between them…and these countless connecting threads, woven into one indissoluble texture, form that ever-enlarging web which is the blended product of the world’s scientific and industrial activity.”
  2. CLUB OF ROME: The Club of Rome was founded in April 1968 by industrialist and scientist Aurelio Peccei in (it will come as no surprise) Rome. The Club of Rome commissioned The Limits to Growth, a study/book that sold 30 million copies in 30 languages, and which predicted collapse in the 21st century. A 2008 review determined that the predictions were still on target.
  3. SANTA FE INSTITUTE: Santa Fe, where I lived for five years, with its 120 art galleries, is like Athens to nearby Los Alamos’ Sparta, and the Santa Fe Institute combined the best of both worlds. Established in 1984 by George Cowan and six others (five of whom were Los Alamos scientists), the Santa Fe Institute focuses on interdisciplinary science seminars and research. I gave it a nickname: Complexity University, and it has been influential in artificial life and chaos research.
  4. ASPEN INSTITUTE: Founded in 1950 and based in Washington DC with campuses in Aspen and on the Wye River in Maryland, the Aspen Institute is highly regarded for bringing together leaders from many fields to discuss interdisciplinary solutions to global problems. Some of the best technology discussions on issues such as spectrum have taken place under Aspen Institute auspices.
  5. INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR APPLIED SYSTEMS ANALYSIS (IIASA): IIASA was founded in London, 1972, to bring together the best scientists from east and west in sort of neutral Austria. IIASA has focused on complex systems and how to negotiate between different nations and professions to manage them.
  6. COPENHAGEN CONSENSUS CENTER: Founded by Bjorn Lomborg, author of the Skeptical Environmentalist, the Copenhagen Consensus tries to apply a sort of cost “return on investment” analyses to solving global problems. The CCC is more financially oriented than the other schools.

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