Singularity University, Victoria Ransom Q & A and Robotics with Notre Dame School

Sun and 28 degrees, San Jose has put on a magnificent day for us to visit the Singularity University. Technically, it’s not a University because it keeps changing its curriculum and doesn’t qualify for accreditation, but it is a learning organisation.

This is what the website says – “Preparing Global Leaders and Organisations for the Future. Explore the opportunities and implications of exponential technologies and connect to a global eco-system that is shaping the future and solving the world’s most urgent problems.”

Our host was Gary Bolles. There is too much to write about him so have a look at this link  He loves New Zealand and has done some work for the New Zealand government, so clearly a good guy. He had us enthralled sharing about how the world of work and learning are changing. He talked about exponential growth in technology. For example, the progress in the 21stis equivalent to the last 20,000 years of progress. In one day, more data is produced than in all history combined. That is exponential growth!

Bolles, or Uncle G as he likes to be referred to, said that there are three things that spark our interest to keep us going, which he called our super-powers.

  1. Self-Knowledge
  2. Curiosity
  3. A problem to solve.

What we are most curious about drives our interest and our focus. We have unique capabilities that no one else has. How do we figure out what is unique about ourselves? How do we figure out what we most enjoy doing? Trial and error! Keep making mistakes until it eventually goes well. Thomas Edison said he found 1000 ways how not to make a light bulb until the 1001st bulb. The more you love something, the more you will keep practising and the better you will get.

Brett Schilke, Director of Impact at Singularity University, told us that we must continually adapt, that the students shouldn’t be thinking about what career they want, they should be thinking about what they can enable. You don’t want to be a Doctor you want to enable healing. Over the next three years, the jobs most likely to be disrupted by technology are Physicians, Pharmacists, Accountants.  Doctors will be less about diagnosis (already AI is reporting on medical scans and offering a diagnosis) and more about understanding the human condition. Pharmacists have robots to count and check pills, Pharmacists will be needed to understand and optimise the medical therapy. Accountants won’t need to do the math, already computers can do this, they will be about looking for loopholes in tax law.

Schilke shared the example about the woolly mammoth that was found in the Siberian permafrost. He spoke to one of the scientists who has extracted and been studying the DNA. Apparently, we have the technology to reproduce another woolly mammoth, we don’t have a big enough elephant to give birth to it!

We heard about 3D printing in space. A wrench was lost at the space station and it would take a lot of money and time to deliver another wrench, so a company called Made in Space came up with a 3D printer that could be used in space and a wrench was printed. The same company is looking at (and has permission for), 3D printing a 1km long satellite in space using a 3 D printing arm. It would be too big to launch up there, so they are building it on site! I know, it’s beyond my imagining to picture this, but it is happening!

Students are living in a time where the speed of change has never been seen before and that will continue to get faster. “Today is the slowest day of your life” they were told. They need to hone their super-powers to be able to adapt to a world where the certainty of change and advancement of technology cannot predict the future of the work they might envision today. Incredible, exciting and powerful messages for the students to absorb and disseminate.

We topped this incredible session off with a walk around the NASA campus where Singularity is currently based. We saw Hangar 1, one of the world's largest freestanding steel structures, covering 8 acres (3.2 ha) It was originally built in the 1930’s as a naval airship hangar. We also stood on a gravel pathway where part of the Zombie movie was filmed (only in America). The buildings looked mostly shabby and old, not where you would expect high tech design to take place, but it does. I suppose that is some of the charm of the place. Google’s campus, well one of them, was adjacent to the NASA Ames Research centre and Google has the lease to the airport on the base. All these big companies are just a few kilometres apart.

After lunch in San Jose we went to the Notre Dame School, where we had a Q & A with Victoria Ransom. Victoria is a serial entrepreneur from Bulls who went to High School at Wanganui Girls but lives in Silicon Valley. She and her husband developed a company called Wildfire Interactive a SaaS company, which I have learnt means Software as a Service. This software interacted with Facebook, so companies could advertise, run campaigns and track how well their business was doing on Facebook (that’s the abbreviated simple description of it). Victoria sold Wildfire in 2012 to Google and worked for Google until 2015.

The students had the opportunity to ask her any questions they wanted about study, setting up a business, the challenges, what’s her advice for her younger self and more. Some of her key messages were:

  1. You never know what you are capable of until you do it
  2. Never underestimate yourself
  3. Inspire people who are behind your goal. Treat them well, because collectively as a team you can achieve more than you thought.
  4. If someone is the wrong person for the job or wrong fit for your culture, you must let them go.
  5. Worry about what you can control, not what you can’t control!

Victoria was a warm down to earth woman who was generous with her wisdom and advice.

Next the students spent time with the Notre Dame Robotics team. They had a chance to hear about what the team did, do some hands-on activities and get to control one of the robots called Pandora that was made for last year’s competition. I think the highlight though, was sharing dinner with the students and getting alongside American peers (if the noise of the chatter was anything to go by). Phone numbers and hugs were exchanged before we left and finished another rewarding day in Silicon Valley.