Peter Diamandis: you will (also) be a virtual world citizen

The Belgian newspaper De Tijd has a great interview (Dutch language) with Singularity University co-founder, author, entrepreneur and futurist Peter Diamandis. When asked about the short-term evolution, Diamandis referred to virtual worlds. He expects interesting stuff to happen there as those worlds become more “real”. People will go there for work and entertainment. Citizenship will no longer be reduced to one single state. One will be a resident of a nation-state but at the same time resident of a virtual world. Kids experiment now already with such a double role in their game worlds. People will also experiment with new forms of government in virtual worlds. Diamandis mentioned Philip Rosedale, founder of Second Life: he considers him to be a pioneer. Diamandis predicts people will ask their governments in the physical world tough questions as they pay taxes but increasingly will take care of their own transport, health care and education.

My own opinion: I think nation-states and companies could also use virtual environments in other ways, for instance to facilitate “virtual immigration”. I remember that back in the hype-period of Second Life we had feverish discussions about immersing non-US residents in American virtual environments where they could work and contribute to the US economy and culture without actually entering the “physical” United States, thus avoiding political discussions about immigration levels.



#SUsummit Amsterdam showcases the augmentation of everything

Virtual worlds are often weird environments. The innovators in that industry have a broad view on our future. Conferences and community conventions offer fascinating insights and discussions. I remember how futurist and technologist Ray Kurzweil gave a (virtual) presentation during the Second Life Community Convention 2009 in San Francisco. Afterwards I rushed to the Green Apple bookstore to buy his book The Singularity is Near (2005). Wikipedia explains:

Kurzweil describes his law of accelerating returns which predicts an exponential increase in technologies like computers, genetics, nanotechnology,robotics and artificial intelligence. He says this will lead to a technological singularity in the year 2045, a point where progress is so rapid it outstrips humans’ ability to comprehend it. Irreversibly transformed, people will augment their minds and bodies with genetic alterations, nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence. Once the Singularity has been reached, Kurzweil predicts machine intelligence will be infinitely more powerful than all human intelligence combined. Afterwards, Kurzweil says, intelligence will radiate outward from the planet until it saturates the universe.

Fast forward to December 2012, when Kurzweil was hired by Google “to bring natural language understanding to Google”. He was involved in various education and learning projects, one of the most interesting is the Singularity University (SU) which he co-founded with Peter Diamandis (2008).

The headquarters of the SU are at Moffett Federal Airfield (NASA Research Park), California, but in Europe we can attend two-day Summit conferences. Last year I attended the Singularity University conference in Budapest, Hungary and I (together with other participants) built a mind map about the state of the future at that time, topics of that mind map include ambient intelligence (sensors, ubiquitous computing, networks), robots, energy, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, synthetic biology, health and medical services, organizational change. In short, it’s about how the augmentation of the human intellect materializes itself and disrupts about everything.

This year my newspaper colleague Peter De Groote went to the Amsterdam Summit. He reported in De Tijd that the fully self-driving car will be available in ten years time, that robots are still toddlers but are growing up fast (and they can read your emotions), that artificial intelligence evolves from disappointing to disruptive, that we no longer should limit ourselves to wearables but that implantables are next in line to augment us:

Virtual Worlds

So… nothing about virtual reality and virtual worlds in this disruption overview? Yes there was. First let’s take a step back: in September Jason Dorrier posted on SingularityHub about Virtual Reality – will it become the next great media platform? He showed this inspiring video:

The idea is that technologies such as Oculus Rift and the new generation of virtual worlds (think High Fidelity) will make it possible to visit the worlds in the other person’s head. We make our dreams accessible, quite literally. Which brings us to brain-to-brain communication and yes, this is a Singularity topic. One example being discussed: University of Washington researchers can transmit the signals from one person’s brain over the Internet and use these signals to control the hand motions of another person within a split second of sending that signal.

Rob Nail talked during the conference about exciting applications like allowing a surgeon to operate from 10,000 km distance, to a pilot assisting a non-pilot to land an aircraft. Or how we network and augment our brains very literally…

Inventing a New University

One of the courses I really enjoyed these last few months was History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education, by professor Cathy N. Davidson (Duke University) on the Coursera platform. The final assignment was the invention of a new institution of higher education. This was my answer, and yes, I did mention virtual environments… I called the thing Peeragogy University, named after a project facilitated by Howard Rheingold,


It’s a pleasure and an honor to present our Peeragogy University. We firmly believe that we live in an epoch of exponential change. The old industrial ways of thinking do no longer apply for learning and teaching (see our Duke U course). We want to help our students to become Change Masters, or rather, we want them to help each other (peer-to-peer) to become Change Masters. 

What is our Mission Statement? There are three crucial skills we want our graduates to acquire:
1) The deep understanding of the fact that this education is not about them. It’s about what they can do for humanity.
2) The deep understanding and the skill of connecting to others in order to realize our dreams. During the program students will discover how connected the big issues of our time are, and how necessary it is to break out of academic silos to work together, to celebrate diversity in our teams. “Diversity” also means that we involve people from outside the institution and from outside academia. We use the wisdom and creativity of artists to facilitate this (see Duke U course).
3) The deep understanding and the skill of learning how to learn and adapt to emerging technologies in the broadest sense of the word ‘technologies’. So the crucial skill and value here is the eagerness to learn, and to learn how to learn throughout their lives (content vs. learning, Duke U course). 

What is the structure of our institution? 
Every student gets a preliminary course during about ten weeks. Leading experts will present major breakthroughs in information technologies, biotech, management (including new ways to launch a project or a business), healthcare, robotics, nanotechnology, energy systems and the makers industries (3D printing, DIY drones etc). These are the competence clusters which form the basic structure of Peeragogy University. 

The students will actually experiment (learning by  making, see Duke U course) with bio-hacking, programming, robotics, genetic engineering, management principles… These weeks will be inspired by what the Singularity University is already doing in California. What we add: we’ll help the students to explicitly build a personal learning environment, making use of their social connections online and/or on campus and of the affordances of the internet (blogs, wikis, social bookmarks, forums, crap detection and information dashboards). See also the Digital Literacies as discussed in the Duke U course. 

After these ten weeks students will have to decide what their Major Project will be for the next years (we have a 4 year program in place). This project must make a difference for humanity (see Mission statement). Maybe something which can affect the lives of millions of people? Typically,this project will make it necessary to acquire an advanced knowledge and skill-level in several subjects. 

However, not everybody who has some healthcare project as his Major Project will need to become a surgeon. Maybe it’s more interesting to become a robotics-specialist in order to contribute to a breakthrough (think exoskeletons for paraplegics). Becoming a robotics specialist probably implies great skill in programming and algorithms. Someone else in the team will become an expert in capital markets in order to find ways to get financing and to develop a financial plan. A third person can contribute because of special knowledge regarding patient psychology and sociology (see Mission Statement aboutconnecting). For each special skill the faculty experts will not teach as Sages on a Stage, but as facilitators of project based peer-to-peer learning. 

As these students try to change the world, they will have to reflect on what they’re doing (Mission statement: meta-learning). They will discuss on an academic level, using the resources of philosophy, logical thinking and using art as a way to mobilize more people for their projects and diversify their teams. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Who are the teachers? All students are also teachers. They work in project teams, and we’ll also organize contacts between the teams. We do havefaculty: there are recognized experts in their fields, from academia but also from outside academia. They will be facilitators of the learning. 
Who are the students? We do not require specific diplomas. We do run an Introductory MOOC (3 months), and achievements during that MOOC will be an important element for admission on the online or physical campus for the full four year program. 

Where do we meet? Our Campus is situated in Portland, Oregon, right next to some famous beer micro-breweries. However, we run an international Introductory MOOC (three months) and a Companion MOOC which runs on a permanent basis. We make heavily use of virtual environments to create an interesting online alternative for the physical campus. 

Who pays and how much? 
Peeragogy University found some generous sponsors, but nevertheless we have to ask a fee for the physical campus experience: $80,000 for one year, housing, tuition and food included. There is a considerable discount for tuition-only students. 
The Companion MOOC-version is free, except for those students who want a formal assessment of their work ($5,000 on a yearly basis). The Introductory MOOC is free, except for those who want an assessment in order to gain access to the 4 year program ($100). 
Students who have financial difficulties can apply for special sponsoring. Students will learn during the Introductory MOOC how to finance their studies (alternative financing techniques). 

Peeragogy University organizes short term programs for companies and government institutions, These programs help financing the Peeragogy University. 

Assessments and Certificates: the assessments are based on the performance during the year – compare it to assessments for company and government workers. Important elements are creativity, how people collaborate, how they learn, how impressive their skills are. We have a completion diploma, but more important even are the Peeragogy Badges (see Duke U course) which reflect the skills of the student. Important to realize: the Major Projects can become companies or institutions outside of Peeragogy University. Students learn to inform venture capitalists, government and social profit players about their Major Projects…

The Singularity was in Budapest, Hungary

I attended the Singularity University Summit in Budapest, Hungary. It was like two days of total immersion in discussions about the concept of exponential growth, artificial intelligence, robotics, 3D printing, bio-hacking, medical breakthroughs and organisational change. I tried to bring some elements together in a wiki mindmap, people have added links and stuff:

Create your own mind maps at MindMeister

I also talked to CEO Rob Nail of the Singularity University:

How to replicate online the hands on experience of the SU and the intense social experience? Well, maybe by using a virtual environment? It seems the SU is exploring that possibility, but it’s too soon to tell. Which reminds me that Philip Rosedale, the founder of Second Life, is one of those who inspires the SU people (just to be clear: he was not at the Summit). He’s working on a high fidelity virtual world, in which avatars would reflect the expressions of their real life typists:

Wouldn’t it be nice to replicate the Singularity University campus experience in a high fidelity virtual environment? It would be a welcome variation on Massive Open Online Course environments of Coursera, Udacity or edX…

More videos and links can be found in my coverage for my newspaper De Tijd (in Dutch).

Singularity Hub acquired by Singularity University

I recently posted about a video-interview with Ray Kurzweil I found on Singularity Hub. I also mentioned the membership-model this site uses. Now the site announced Singularity University acquired it.

Keith Kleiner founded the site five years ago. At first I thought it was part of the Singularity University, but in fact both were unrelated – until now. Kleiner in a post on the Hub:

(…) the two companies surprisingly had never formally collaborated in any way. Recently, however, Singularity University CEO Rob Nail and I came to the realization that our two organizations would make a perfect combination, ultimately leading to today’s announcement.