Since it was first developed some 40 years ago for military reasons by the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the internet has become such an integral part of our lives, for professional and personal reasons, that being deprived of its use for several days, or worse, several weeks, is simply inconceivable! The last 100 years have been punctuated with the development of a plethora of other extraordinary new technologies that have deeply affected the way we live, sometimes for the worse, but mainly for the better.

Technology is moving fast, incredibly fast. According to the futurist and transhumanist Raymond Kurzweil, technological change is exponential and we are aiming towards a theoretical future point (singularity) of unprecedented advancement caused by the accelerating development of various technologies with such deep impact, that human life will be irreversibly transformed. The term singularity belongs to astrophysics and corresponds to the ultra-compressed center of a black hole where the conditions of our normal universe no longer apply. In a metaphorical sense, the term ‘technological singularity’ was first coined in 1993 by the computer scientist Vernor Vinge, to represent the uncertainties projected to result from the growth of a range of powerful technologies such as biotechnology, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, robotics and genetics.

The concept of the Singularity University was proposed by Peter Diamantis to Raymond Kurzweil in mid-2007. The idea was to create an academic institution whose students and faculty will study and understand how these exponentially growing technologies can be best used to address humanity's greatest challenges such as global poverty, hunger or climate change. With Google as a founding corporate sponsor and a lease agreement with the NASA Ames Research Center to house its facilities in the NASA research park in California, the Singularity University will open its doors in June 2009.

While the underlying concept is very commendable, joining this singular elite meant to shape the next generation of CEOs, university deans and government leaders, is not an easy task. The ideal students need not only to be amongst the smartest and most passionate from around the world, they also need a proven track record of leadership, must be at least bilingual and well travelled. Interested? If you want to join as a student, be prepared to summarise your background, any leadership experience and how you would like to apply new ideas and technologies to address grand challenges in 300 words.

The 9-week graduate studies program comes at a price of US$25,000 with a limited number of 40 students for the first year. 3-day and 10-day courses are also available and aim at reviewing accelerating technological changes and their impact on day-to-day operations, with tuition fees of US$8,000 and US$12,000, respectively.

It does seem that the honorable mission to save humanity comes at a cost.

Read full text on ScienceDirect

DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(09)70147-6