Mittwoch, 20. Januar 2016

The Emperor has no Clothes - REALLY?

It's been a couple of weeks since Nikola, a GSP11 alumni (as I almost did become; one week's notice to raise $ 25K was insane and so I did cover Amplifyfestival 2011 in Sydney that summer), shared his talk with the title The Emperor Has No Clothes: Socrates Deconstructs Singularity University.

In short, and that has come to my personal understanding is that:
1. Singularity University (SU) is not about the Singularity
2. Singularity University is running a traditional business model, not focused on exponential
3. Knowledge is not publicly shared as in announced in the first announcement at TED 2008

Even though I have to admit that I go along with many of Nikola's points he has made in his speech and the following Q & A I'd counter answer as the situation is quite more dynamically complex than it seems at first sight.

I will draw on the three points I have stated above.

ad 1. 

When Ray Kurzweil, chancellor and co-founder of SU, at his TED talk 2008 "A University for the coming Singularity" he stated the following:

"Its students and faculty will study these technologies, with an emphasis on their interactions, and help to guide the process for the benefit of humanity and its environment"

... per se the "Singularity" is not the focus.

Additionally, SU is not a "traditional" university, though it makes sense to use the known term that is well understood by the public, as the curriculum is constantly in development (much faster than a university department normally changes the syllabus, even from year to year).

SU is rather about technologies and how they can be applied (yet missing out the social innovation part at large in the curriculum to what I see, and know) to solve the world's greatest challenges. As the TED talk came up, and I was in the phase to create a smaller version of SU AKA LockSchuppen here in Silicon Saxony's capital Dresden, we did manage to collaboratively translate the talk into German using the back than official TED translation tool dotSUB, in order to make it available for local business folks, and SMEs, as well as politicians and educators.

ad 2.

Concerning the business model, this was publicly outlined by Salim Ismail at the Foresight Conference 2010 (see the last presentation which includes slides and video on the schedule). This alone per se is quite unique as you seldom see this openness on how the business model is supposed to work in other companies.

As I found out myself ("the hard way"), building a business model on openness and exponential technologies (especially communication tools) the "normal" business world does not understand the implications of exponential technologies in its total impact (also on their business models, and economic future). Therefore, it makes sense to keep the "money for service" paradigm within SU for some time. As over time, the demand was growing this resulted even in raising the tuition for the Executive Program. Probably on one side to lower the overarching demand that could not fulfilled in the wished quality - I remember a workshop on lean manufacturing in 2005 that had allowed in twice as many participants (for the same price) than the year before, only to become overcrowded, crappy, and not recommendable anymore; the People Express Airline story how lowering prices can become fatal). On the other hand this "entrance barrier" forces potential participants to think more about the topic of exponential technologies, and get their grip on MOOCs, local communities such as XPRIZE Think Tanks and learn about it outside SU.

In both cases favorable.

Not to forget in this context is that Google now sponsors the tuition for the yearly 80 participants of the GSP program, meaning you don't have to raise the $ 25k but still there is the challenge to write the essays for the application, and do the video - which in itself is quite a challenge (I have done it three times, once in 2011 even successful)

Of course, this shouldn't the last step on the "ladder of progress", and SU is progressing in this as well being present at other conferences as in Hamburg at the ZEIT FESTIVAL Smashing Ideas (photos, own review on the event (in German)) in Hamburg in February or even doing the first SingularityU Germany Summit.

ad 3.

When SU started in 2009 with its first GSP cohort and the executive program it was intended to share the video lectures in public. Some of which especially in the early days became public such as "The Best Way to Predict the Future is to Create it Yourself" (by Peter Diamandis) and "Bob Metcalfe discusses the Enernet" by Bob Metcalfe (both talks have become real inspirations for my own work)

Some great videos which were already out on the web even had to be taken down due to copyright issues, or lectures probably who didn't want their talks to be freely available to everybody.

Over the years, however, this has also become "better". As many of the attendees of the GSP-programs (#GSP09, #GSP10, #GSP11, #GSP12, #GSP13, #GSP14, #GSP15) are on social media, especially Twitter and the hashtag #SingularityU.

Rather than sharing the information with the organization itself, providing the context for participants to share ideas, information, knowledge, and connections themselves openly on social media so others (even outside the programs, and not paying thousand of dollars to attend) can become engaged, inspired, and pulled into taking action themselves.

During the GSP14 program, Angela Incampo (my co-initiator of HTxA - HighTech x Agency) and I decided to partner with Eventifier to bring the shared knowledge from Silicon Valley to a broader audience. Here our interview on the Eventifier blog and the one Angela did with three passionate and crazy attendees of GSP14 on the HTxA-blog.

... and finally, a great way to learn more about the protagonists of SU, and exponential entrepreneurs this series by Alison E. Berman is worthwhile.

Finally, the future is not there yet. A lot is ahead of us all. Becoming aware of our own mental models and how innovation, business models, and making a living in an exponential world is the first step the  #MoonshotThinkers we are all probably are once we become aware of our capabilities!!

My #PresencingStatus on the issue:

1. Good - glad Nikola had the courage to bring the issues to the table
2. Tricky - quite challenging to keep the emotions calm and see, and become aware of  the facts
3. Learned - technology is by far not enough to make the world a better place: social comes along
4. Action - PRESS RETURN to make these thoughts available for the conversation & dialogue

Yours, Ralf  

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