First off, I had a fantastic experience there. The students (a very multinational group) were engaged all throughout a long session, and several of them stuck around to have lunch with me afterward. They were unfailingly polite even when they were challenging me — which, bless them, they were not reluctant to do — and were uniformly super smart, well-informed, and well-intentioned. I was also treated extraordinarily well by the people who make Singularity U happen, including Aaron Rothstein, knowledge sommelier Kathryn Myronuk, José Cordiero, tech éminence grises Brad Templeton and Vivek Wadhwa, Kagglemeister Jeremy Howard, and CEO Rob Nail. In short, it was a blast (and I got to wander around the weird and wonderful environment that is NASA Ames).
Second, and more importantly, the SU crowd was not at all advocating with one voice that we do away with capitalism and democracy. I probably gave that impression when I titled my previous post “Will Capitalism and Democracy Soon Be Passé?” and I’m sorry for that. The SUers did not all think that the price system was a dinosaur, that the profit motive was evil and Communism was the answer, that the vote needed to be taken away from those not enlightened enough, and so on.
They were trying sincerely to grapple with the consequences and implications of continued exponential technological progress. So am I, and I greatly value kindred spirits like the ones I found at SU.
I wrote my previous post because a couple of the well-intentioned ideas that I heard, particularly over lunch when the discussion got really free-wheeling, started to head in directions that I found discomforting, for reasons that I tried to articulate (and still believe).
But I want to stress: Singularity U is not some hotbed of anti-capitalist, anti-democracy techno-radicalism. It’s an amazing place where smart young people are being encouraged to invent the future, and given good tools to do so. I hope I get to hang out there some more…