Thanks to local futurist, Mary Brown, Singularity University (SU) is establishing a chapter in Grand Rapids, one of 142 chapters in 66 world locations recognized as up-and-coming technology centers. SU had been on Brown’s radar for some time. After attending its Global Summit, she submitted an application in hopes of starting a Grand Rapids chapter. Because Grand Rapids is recognized as an emerging center of innovation, the chapter application was approved.
“The whole focus of SingularityU is looking at how exponential technologies can be used for good in society,” Brown says. “We hear a lot of the doomsday predictions. Those are valid concerns but, at the same time, we are looking at how to be proactive and use technology for good.”
Founded in 2008 by Peter H. Diamandis and Ray Kurzweil, SU receives funding from Google, Deloitte, and UNICEF. A futurist and inventor, Kurzweil predicts that singularity — the moment when artificial intelligence surpasses human thinking — will take place by 2029. According to its website, SingularityU’s global learning and innovation communities seek to use “exponential” technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), data science, medicine, digital fabrication, and digital biology “to tackle the world’s biggest challenges and build a better future for all.”
SingularityU Grand Rapids team members include Brown, the chapter ambassador, and Jan Mathorne, owner of HUCAPA - Human Capital Partners, an executive search consulting firm based in Denmark, Michigan, and California. Brown, a futurist, focuses on ethical adoption of AI in healthcare and society via human-centered design and organizational change and learning. A former senior digital experience analyst at Priority Health, she currently serves as senior consultant for learning and development in Spectrum Health’s Inclusion and Diversity department and as adjunct faculty at Grand Rapids Community College in the psychology and business departments.
Brown hopes that by engaging advancing technologies for the good of the whole community, the negative impacts that such advances could bring can be avoided. For example, the unintended negative impact on robotics reducing the number of manufacturing positions.
“I’ve seen from my past work professionally what happens when people have not been prepared. First, it was NAFTA. Changes are on the horizon. We cannot stop the progress that is happening but, what we can do, is put things in place to soften the blow and prepare people to be ready,” Brown says. “The train has left the station. Technologies can help. How do we ensure that everyone has a worth and a value in society if we don’t start looking to solve the problems?”
Brown and Mathorne are seeking to involve any and all individuals and organizations that want to advance technologies to create positive, equitable change in the region.
“We have people who know a lot within pockets of the community. The hope is to get these people out and participating in meaningful and productive ways,” Brown says. “If it’s always about bringing the elite into the room — and not diverse people and inclusion in the space — then we defeat the purpose of how we are going to solve the problems. The people closest to the challenges are those who have the answers. Those who are in that elite status don’t have those same challenges.”
Since 2015, SingularityU Chapters have helped local regions jump-start innovation through events featuring local experts, sponsorship of SU Global Impact Challenges (GICs), and other initiatives at the local level. In 2017, its chapters held 320 events involving more than 25,000 attendees. Brown and Mathorne are working to create the Grand Rapids chapter’s first educational event, which will introduce SU to the community.
“It’s not about charging people an exorbitant amount of money. There’s no membership fee. For programs, the cost will cover the cost of food and drinks, no more than $15 or $20,” she says. “Our role as we look at programming will be to get as many folks together as we can.”
To learn more, visit SU.org, download the SingularityU Hub mobile app, or email [email protected]
Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Mary Brown and SingularityU