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U.S. High-tech Experts Descend on Israel to Discuss Their Brave New World

Dozens of high-tech professionals and scientists gathered on Sunday at the Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa for the start of a two-day course by Singularity University.

A team of American high-tech experts arrived in Jaffa on Sunday to discuss their belief that the world is on the threshold of an unprecedented technology revolution that will radically alter our way of life.

Dozens of high-tech professionals and scientists gathered on Sunday at the Peres Center for Peace for the start of a two-day course by Singularity University.

Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa.
Ofer Vaknin

The university is a three-year-old institution based at the Ames Research Center of NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, in California's Silicon Valley. SU has become a place where high-tech capital meets the so-called futurist movement that was an outgrowth of several decades of work on artificial intelligence. The university team was flown in from the American West Coast to present its technological vision to an Israeli audience. One attendee also flew in from Singapore for the course.

From the glass facade of the center's lecture hall, with the breaking waves of the Mediterranean as a backdrop, the team of American futurists, joined by their Israeli counterparts, discussed the future of humanity with an audience of about 40 people.

On Wednesday, the visitors will deliver a presentation to a conference cosponsored by TheMarker, Haaretz's business daily, on the future impact of technology.

Singularity can be defined in various ways, but it is first and foremost a concept describing that time in the not-too-distant future - Singularitarians say as early as the middle of this century - when artificial intelligence will supposedly overtake human intelligence and entirely transform the development of the human species. Futurists are promising, for example, that our life spans will be extended by decades or even centuries, that the human brain will be dramatically enhanced with the help of drugs and computers, that computers will make a whole host of decisions for us, and that we will also have an inexhaustible supply of energy. In short, it will be a completely new world.

Yanki Margalit, who initiated the conference in Jaffa, founded Aladdin Knowledge Systems, a company he sold in 2009. Margalit is an Israeli stalwart of the singularity movement, including belief in the exponential potential of solar energy.

Singularity - March 2012

For his part, Salim Ismail, Singularity University's founding executive director, said technology has been the main engine for human progress over recent millennia. Thinking about history, he admitted, was not a major part of the institution.

"In Accelerating Technology We Trust" - this motto, included in Ismail's presentation on Sunday, aptly sums up the university's outlook of technological salvation: a belief in the power of technology's accelerating development to solve the major problems facing humanity, regardless of the way in which society organizes itself or decides to deploy the tools that it has developed.