Technology and innovation builder Singularity University (SU) officially launched its Singapore chapter this week. The launch was accompanied by a “global impact challenge,” a pitching competition for promising individuals solving human problems through technology.
Silicon Valley-based SU is described as a community of thinkers and innovators that apply “exponential technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges.” It’s a lofty mission statement, one that depends on getting together creative minds and connecting them to the right resources and networks.
The SU founders are renowned futurist and thinker Ray Kurzweil and technologist and entrepreneur Peter Diamandis. Kurzweil has long been writing and talking about the “technological singularity” – the idea that the invention of true artificial intelligence will trigger abrupt and irrevocable change in human civilization. Diamandis’ ambition for a future of abundance – access to resources like clean water and energy, education, healthcare, and technology for nine billion people – is a key driving force for SU.
“There’s this broad notion of key drivers of exponential technology,” Nicholas Haan, vice president of impact and track chair at SU, tells Tech in Asia. He explains that technologies like AI, robotics, digital biology, and medicine are growing at exponential rates.
The consequences of this accelerated growth for humanity are the areas SU wants to address. For example, unemployment as a result of automation – and getting from there to a labor force that’s augmented by exponential technology.
The Singapore chapter, a community of SU alumni and community members interested in exponential technologies, will build on those values to address prevalent problems in the city-state and in Southeast Asia in general. It plans to work with local universities, business organizations, and more to raise awareness about the University’s tech values.
For example, one of the areas of focus will be better ways to deliver healthcare tools and services to people in Asia, says Lee Chon Cheng, a member of the Singapore chapter’s leadership team. That’s why SU Singapore collaborated with global medical technology company BD for this challenge.
The winner this time was Victor Pomponiu, a computer vision scientist working with Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A-STAR). His project was an AI-powered software platform that helps alleviate diabetes risk by imposing subtle lifestyle changes to users. The idea is that the system will use data from mobility behavior to medical exams to create and monitor a user’s profile.
Like other global impact challenge winners, Victor gets to attend SU’s global solutions program, a three-month stint at SU’s Silicon Valley headquarters at NASA’s Research Park. The program’s aim is to help people like Victor develop their ideas into startups.
Participants go through an intensive curriculum from faculty, speakers, and mentors, visit Silicon Valley companies, and eventually form two- to five-person teams to develop their ideas. Startups formed can then go through SU’s accelerator program, which pours US$100,000 in seed funding into each.
These competitions take place in countries around the world. SU local chapters are found across Europe, South America, South Africa, India, and elsewhere.
The global outlook is key to SU’s mission to solve world problems. “The potential for innovation is a human characteristic, we see it everywhere we go in the world,” Nicholas adds.