Singularity University also referred to as SU started in 2008. It’s a think tank that offers educational programmes and various accelerator and incubator programmes. SU’s primary focus is on scientific progress and “exponential” technologies. In their own words, the ‘mission is to educate, inspire, and empower leaders to apply exponential technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges’. While Silicon Valley is home to SU they have a huge global impact with 73 chapters in 45 countries. Each year SU hold a Global Summit in San Francisco and multiple international summits around the world.

singularity university summit

Last week Laura Reitel, Nick Churchouse and I attended the 2017 Singularity University Global Summit in San Francisco. Three days packed with almost 100 speakers – a world-class collection of thinkers, leaders, and doers discussing and redefining the future of business, technology, and humanity as a whole. The conference saw more than 1400 people attend from 64 countries. A very diverse group of people from within government, executives, investors, people from specific industries and entrepreneurs.

The major focus of this conference was forming solutions that are good for the world – using technology to create better opportunities and quality of life for all. We heard from world leaders in AI (artificial intelligence), energy, food production, neuroscience, the blockchain, and other exponential technologies on the progress in their industries but also the negatives, both perceived and real.

From ‘scarcity to abundance’ was a phrase repeated multiple times throughout the event. When Rob Nail, CEO of SU, asked the audience who was working on ‘impact initiatives’ well over half the room raised their hands. The latest report from the worldwide SU community reported over 4644 impact initiatives currently being worked on this past year.

singularity university summit

After such a huge conference it’s hard to know where to start sharing; every attendee’s takeaways and highlights would be so different.

Peter Diamandis, co-founder of SU kicked off by informing us that by 2020 there will be 20 billion devices online, and 3.5 billion people brought online in the next decade. The entire human race will be able to know anything, anytime, anywhere. He discussed what this means for us in terms of access to untapped genius and idea generation.

Andra Keay, director at Silicon Valley Robotics urged the audience to think of ‘robots as magic’ and highlighted some of the great new AI enhancing people’s lives from Mabu a personal healthcare companion to Tertill who lives in your garden and does your weeding. She showcased the new category of ‘service robots’.  Rameez Naam, author of the Nexus Trilogy, spoke on quantified healtheverything ranging from trainables (e.g. body sensor watches) to poopables (e.g. devices for ‘capsule endoscopy’). Neuroscientist Divya Chander spoke on leading biotechnologies. She believes that anybody who has a disability they no longer want to live with should have the technology to change it.

There was a lot of talk throughout the event on mental health and the effect that the rapid increase of being ‘switched on’ all the time is having on people. If you took all the information and data created from the dawn of civilisation until 2012 – that much data is now being produced every 48 hours.

With one million deaths by suicide per annum and growing, this is becoming a major world health crisis. Jamie Wheal of the Flow Genome Project talked about the importance of ‘unwinding from the “always on” of the world’. A panel of experts in neuroscience and psychiatry spoke on new insights into the human brain allowing digital phenotyping to start forming solutions and prevention tools. A young Ukrainian startup Nimses whose social networking app uses your minutes as digital coins believe that they have redefined the relationship between a human being and time, allowing users to feel valued and purposeful.

singularity university summit

Rob Nail asked ‘how we can function when we watch the news’ and brought light to the fact that as we sat in the Hilton Union Square there were hundreds of homeless people outside. The disconnect is extraordinary, but projects for good can decrease those gaps. Technology in action was seen in the form of ShelterTech a startup collaborating with underserved community members to create digital products – at a simple level an app that enables the homeless to find the nearest food, shelter, and bathrooms.

Mark Brand spoke at a very real level on purpose and thinking deeply about who inspires you. 1 in 9 people in the US is suffering chronic malnourishment. For Mark, his passion is feeding the hungry and feeding them well. Providing nourishment and interaction with the long term goal of creating community and getting people on the streets into education and jobs. Since 2012 one of Mark’s businesses Vancouver diner Save on Meats has seen the public purchase over 88,000 meals for those less fortunate than themselves.

Will Weisman, Executive Director of the SU Summit shared how endless the possibilities for this century are. Never before has the world seen so much change happen in such a condensed period of time and we are a part of that, with a massive shift in the power of individuals and groups. “What only a government could once do a company can now do, and what only a company could once do an individual can now do,” Weisman said.

Each day was filled with thought provoking questions. How can you do well, by doing good? If you can work from anywhere where will you live? If you don’t have to work so much, what will you do with your time? Amin Toufani, CEO of TLabs and SU Faculty, asked us to think ‘one year from today, what project will you regret not starting?’. And a question repeatedly asked throughout the conference…


After a short while to digest the exponential amount of information we received, we must think about how to apply this new information and make it relevant here and now, in New Zealand, in our day to day and business lives.

Most main theatre sessions were live streamed and you can get access to them by signing up here. There’s some very good watching in there.

singularity university summit

If you’re interested in hearing about and discussing with Nick & I what we learned and how it’s relevant for kiwi entrepreneurs and industry come along to our ExoSphere Meetup on September 5th. Or sign up for Creative HQ’s monthly newsletter, innovation straight into your inbox.

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Written by Amelia Devine, Head of Operations at Creative HQ 

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