Singularity University – Team Projects

Singularity University is one of the most interesting developments in education in some time.    SU is bringing together experts in neuroscience, artificial intelligence, engineering, and other thought leaders along with business leaders.   The discussions include abstract topics as well as pressing global problems and it is clear this group could yield some great innovation.

Here are some of the project SU identified in a recent press release:

  • One Global Voice leverages mobile phone proliferation to accelerate economic development. It envisions a platform that will provide a set of modular programming tools accessible through a web portal, empowering individuals to create applications empowering education and commerce, linking together the developed and developing worlds.
  • Gettaround addresses how an intelligent transportation grid can positively affect energy usage and slow climate change, as people value access over ownership of cars. The first step to the grid, Gettaround is a marketplace for peer-to-peer leasing of under-utilized car hours. It enables car owners to derive revenue from their idle cars, and for renters to have easy access to cars – affordably and conveniently.
  • ACASA focuses on advances in rapid, additive manufacturing technologies to construct affordable and customizable housing in the developing world. Cost-efficient, environmentally sustainable solutions have the potential to create a transformative new paradigm for improving housing construction using local resources.
  • XIDAR considers a new paradigm for disaster response, allowing users to overcome the communications network problems typical of crisis situations. The project enables innovative solutions to facilitate evacuation, medical triage and aid during natural disasters.

Intellectual Stimulus Plan: Make All Scientific Journal Subscriptions Free

Although I’m not a big fan of Government spending I’d like to offer a suggestion to President Obama and the big spending gang – negotiate an agreement with all the leading scientific journals that will make all scientific papers free or very low cost to anybody.     A big frustration and a possible impediment to innovation is the fact that many science papers are “locked away” by expensive subscription paywalls at leading scientific journals.    One can understand that those journals are struggling to survive and need money, but the current practice of charging exhorbitant fees so only libraries and a handful of specialists can read the leading edge research is misguided at best and intellectual crime at worse.

Since journals operate on what is usually a very low budget, the government could offer very modest amounts – probably something equal to 1.5 to 2 times their current subscription fees to keep the journals ticking and happy.   Authors would be happy to see many times the audience for papers often destined to obscurity.

I think I’d actually favor a “no cost” option that required all research papers funded in any way by any grants or portions of grants  to be made public by the author upon publication,  but the “new” science community seems to be incredibly stubborn about  changes and very protective when territory is threatened so I’m guessing they would likely reject that out of hand, using the argument that the journals should continue to act as a sort of “referee” and organizer of relevant research content.    I think this used to make more sense than now as politics have become too much a part of the research and publications framework (I think mostly in the climate sciences), raising several important issues about publications standards, peer review, and data sharing.


Stumbled on this great collage of videos from French lighthouses during storms.

I think one of them is La Jument,  which is where the most famous of all lighthouse wave pictures was taken some years ago showing the keeper standing outside of the doorway as a huge wave was about to engulf him.    I just learned that the reason he opened the door was that he thought the chopper that took his picture was a rescue chopper enroute to pick him up.    He did survive that wave.     Click here for La Jument Pictures

Did you apologize to your kids today for spending all their allowance money? And tens of thousands more of their money. For the rest of your life.

Did you thank your kid today for all the money they’ve been loaning you?

As a supporter of many of the changes President Obama has brought to our national table it’s painful to watch so many folks simply back away from the next glaring financial catastrophe which makes the last one look like a walk in the park.    It’s the massive US national debt and massive deficit spending that has been going on now for over a decade, though never on the scale of the coming years.

Ironically this is a problem all of us were talking about a *lot* before the economy melted down, and even before the GW Bush era of what is best called “fake conservatism”  doubled the national debt.    President Bush was able to push his irresponsible spending down the pike to Obama thanks to inheriting  a very robust Clinton era economy, keeping folks happy with tax cuts, and claiming the war spending was essential to preserve our freedom.   Where a handful of real fiscal conservatives cried foul, legions of fake conservatives stayed silent and followed the leads of the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity who suckered the gullible into focusing on the lies and distortions that fueled the Bush v. Gore,  Bush v.  Kerry, and McCain v. Obama campaigns.   Power was far more important to all the parties than sound principles of governance, spending, or national policy.

Now it’s Obama who is able to ignore the massive spending and debt because the economic meltdown he inherited from Bush has trumped concerns for the debt. and some form of stimulus is certainly called for according to almost all economists.

Thankfully the massive Obama spending stimulus appears to be bringing us out of recession though it’s not clear at what future cost.     In politics it’s hard for parties and Presidents to look too far past the big power curve, and in my view Obama and the Democrats won’t even work hard to undertand the implications of spending themselves past the 2012 elections and then they will just hope for a miracle.   More likely than a miracle is that we’ll see very high inflation as  the Government is virtually forced to print money to repay obligations since the tax rates required to repay the anticipated debts will be totally unsupportable and unsustainable.

Another irony of the situation is that all those formerly quiet “conservatives” are now quite reasonably suggesting we’re creating a new financial catastrophe, but the concerns are falling on deaf Democratic ears because these same people were not critical of their own political allies back when they did have a voice and they tend to blend in nonsense talking points (birth certificates, communist agendas, etc, etc) about Obama and the Democrats.

In simple terms we are saddling our children and future generations with a debt that almost certainly cannot be repaid in any conventional fashion.    The amounts are too staggering to understand even if you are well versed in accounting and math.   This interactive chart is worth a look if you want to see how the numbers shake out in terms of government spending per capita:

So, when you hug your son, daughter, niece or nephew today be sure to tell them “thanks for the money”  because they have been loaning you a LOT of money for the past ten years, especially this last one.   Many tens of thousands and growing hugely each year.

We’re stealing our kids prosperity away.   The least we can do is say “Thank you”.

P.S.   The solution to all this is remarkable simple.   After a few years of stimulus deficit spending the government should be required to lower spending to balance the budget over the following few years.  Our current massive entitlement and defense spending could sustain 100% of the required cuts to balance the budge without any significant diminished standards of living for Americans.

IMPORTANT:  Few of the comments below represent my views, but I avoid censoring politics here so I’ve chosen not to delete the many off topic comments.   I’m reconsidering that policy because much of the material below is, in my view, not helpful to any rational discussion of these topics.

Ask Yourself: What Would Prove me WRONG?

An excellent comment I heard recently suggested how we are primed to look for the data that supports what we are already believe rather than challenge our own visions of the world by asking what arguably is the most important question you can ask about your own beliefs:   “What Would Prove Me WRONG?”.     We see this all the time in politics where advocates present only information that supports their position and only review comments from the opposition that make them look bad.   Where objective people look at “all the facts”, advocates only look in one direction.

As a science person the importance of the “What Would Prove Me Wrong” approach  is pretty obvious  – though I sometimes fail my own test and forget to ask this question rather than the more common and misguided “what data will prove my idea correct?”.

At first glance you might say “hey, it’s important and justifiable to look mostly for the data that will prove my idea right!”.    But you’d be … WRONG.. to think that.    More importantly you’d be *irrational* if you think that approach will get you closer to the truth.   It will simply reinforce your existing perception.   You may be right or wrong, but since it’s easy to find support for even completely faulty ideas by “cherry picking”, truth demands you look at *all* the data or when that is not possible work hard to sample the data you do review in unbiased ways.

In science this inappropriate focus  is often called “Cherry Picking” and it’s the practice of focusing too narrowly on supporting data in such a way that it creates a biased observation.      An extreme example would be for somebody to suggest that an unusually hot summer “proves”  global warming, or that an unusually cold winter “disproves” it.     Contrary to what you’d think if you get your science from common journalistic misinterpretations, few of the events cited in the news tell you much of anything about how to evaluate the complex climate models and observations that frame the complex global warming issues such as the role of human factors vs natural variation, the costs of mitigation, and the significance of the warming trends themselves in terms of our global future well-being.

Science relies heavily on a wonderful principle called skepticism.   Unfortunately that wondeful notion of “skepticism” has been seriously damaged during the massive global warming debates where “skeptics” of the “anthropogenic global warming hypothesis”, also called “AGW”  are disparaged as “deniers” who have no interest in science or truth.     While it is true that many “global warming skeptics” are simply parroting nonsense talking points and never asking themselves “What Would Prove me WRONG?”,  many defective forms of rational inquiry are now commonplace in the scientific community as well.      This is unfortunate and more importantly has created within science a new “advocacy model” where many scientists no longer see their primary role as that of unbiased, objective researcher – they also want to become spokespeople for policy changes they feel are the logical extension of their research.    This scientist/ advocate model has combined with our natural human egos in very undesireable ways.

An excellent example is the defense by no less than several NASA climate scientists of the misleading and scientifically unjustified claims in the film “An Inconvenient Truth”.     Debating the merits of that film at the blog quickly taught me that my old school ideas about science and scientists as “profoundly skeptical seekers of truth” have been replaced by the new idea that scientists are not only entitled to be advocates, they are pretty much obligated to be advocates.      I’d argue that this single factor is the most alarming trend in science right now because advocates don’t see or think nearly as clearly as researchers (formerly proudly called skeptics).   If there is one thing we need moving forward it is clear thinking and skepticism rather than an almost blind adherence to complex models attempting to describe the world.

Update on this meme: