Ray Kurzweil speaking to a conference as a hologram in 2006. He first proposed the idea of a school for futurologists two years ago. Photograph: Ed Murray/Corbis
The Singularity University will offer courses in artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and biotechnology
By Ian Sample
An American inventor who plans to live for ever has been appointed head of a new school for futurologists backed by Google and the US space agency Nasa.
Ray Kurzweil, who worked as a computer scientist before turning to future gazing in the late 1980s, will become chancellor of the Singularity University based at Nasa’s Silicon Valley campus in California.
The institution gains its name from a controversial 2005 book by Kurzweil, entitled The Singularity is Near. In it, he argues that the exponential advance of technology is set to transform society by giving rise to computers that are more clever than humans. The leap in computing power will drive rapid advances in other fields, he claims, that together could solve the problems of climate change, poverty, famine and disease.
In an earlier book, Kurzweil predicts the creation of “nanobots” that will patrol our bloodstreams, repairing wear and tear as they go, and keeping our bodies perpetually young.
“The law of accelerating returns means technology eventually will be a million more times powerful than it is today and cause profound transformation,” Kurzweil told Associated Press after his appointment was announced.
The new institute will offer courses on artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and biotechnology and is due to open its doors to its first class of 30 students this summer.
Kurzweil began discussing the concept for the school two years ago with Peter Diamandis, chairman of the X Prize Foundation, which offers multimillion dollar prizes for technological breakthroughs. The school is backed by Diamandis and Google co-founder Larry Page. Google has already contributed more than $1 million to the institution, and several other major companies are planning to contribute at least $250,000, Diamandis said.
“One of the objectives of the university is to really dive in depth into these exponentially growing technologies, to create connections between them, and to apply these ideas to the great challenges [facing humanity],” said Kurzweil.
Nasa has agreed that the school can use buildings at its Ames Research Centre in Moffett Field, which is near the offices of US tech giants Google, Yahoo!, Intel Corp and Cisco Systems.
A nine-week course at Singularity University will cost $25,000. The first three weeks will be spent studying 10 different subjects, with the next three weeks focusing on one in detail. The final three weeks will be taken up by a special project. Details of the new institution, which despite its name is not an accredited university, are to be unveiled at the annual Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) conference in Long Beach, California, today.
Kurzweil, who famously consumes more than 100 supplement pills a day and regularly checks around 50 health indicators, has been criticised by some experts who see his predictions as outlandish. In a 2007 interview, Douglas Hofstadter, the Pulitzer prizewinning author and professor of cognitive science at Indiana University compared his ideas to a blend of very good food and “the craziest sort of dog excrement”.
In an earlier book, Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever, Kurzweil and co-author Terry Grossman lay out their vision of humans living radically longer lives within the next three decades or so.
The first step involves adopting a good enough diet and exercise regime to live long enough for biotechnology to unravel the ageing process and for nanotechnology to be capable of slowing it down and ultimately reversing it.
Among Kurzweil’s other predictions are a pill that lets you eat what you want without getting fat – which he believes could be available within ten years; a world where all energy comes from renewable sources within 20 years; and a life expectancy that increases at a rate faster than you age within 15 years.