Silicon Valleys Singularity University Has Some Serious Reality Problems

The pitch was simple: Forget accredited colleges and believe large at Singularity University. Google co-founder Larry Page and futurist Ray Kurzweil may be one of your lecturers in the Graduate Studies Program at Singularity, known for the notion that humans will someday combine machines. You’d operate in a sort of combination think tank and startup incubator, trying to handle challenges as grand as space travel and renewable energy. Kurzweil declared the program in a TED Talk in 2009, including that the Singularity team had rented its campus by NASA, just east of the agency’s historic Hangar One in Mountain View, Calif.. That year the team received 1,200 applications for its first class of 40.

Reality hasn’t even. Previously police files and interviews with former and current pupils and staff paint the image that nearly from the start, some Singularity staffers weren’t prepared to suppress their impulses. A teacher allegedly sexually assaulted a former student, an executive stole over $15,000, a former staffer alleges gender and disability discrimination, and Singularity disregarded 14 of about 170 staffers and suspended GSP, now called the Global Solutions Program, following Google withdrew financing last year.

Alumni say for-profit Singularity is currently becoming another organizer of executive seminars and conferences. It’s weighing purchasing the conference company Abundance 360. “It’s lost its spirit,” says Vivek Wadhwa, who is at Carnegie Mellon University and conducted the faculty. “It’s become a moneymaking corporation. ”

The majority of those things are much before while Singularity says it takes seriously its community & #x2019; s safety and some other allegations, says Chief Executive Officer Rob Nail. He says that he was planning to suspend and reevaluate GSP before Google finished its yearly grant of $1.5 million. The grant covered about half of the expenses. Google, whose older director Jen Phillips abandoned Singularity’s advisory board late last year and won’t be substituted, says it intends to concentrate on Singularity’s entrepreneurship programs rather.

Nail says although GSP may be reborn mostly online, conventions and executive education (tuition: $14,500 for a weeklong program) will become the bulk of Singularity’s work. It held 10 conventions last year and has 18 planned for 2018. On Feb. 15 it declared raised $32 million in venture capital led by Boeing Co.. And investment company WestRiver Group. WestRiver Erik Anderson’s CEO, is substituting Diamandis as Singularity’s chairman. These modifications will help the company thereby help individuals and turn a profit. “Should we want to make real impact,” he says, “we need to get it done in a sustainable fashion. ”

Singularity had NASA connections beyond its leased buildings. Early GSP pupils speak highly of a lecture a physician who got into the shuttle program. Several say they watched him. Barry hasn’t educated GSP pupils once the company investigated him for allegedly sexually assaulting Yasemin Baydaroglu, a student who attended GSP in 2011.

Baydaroglu says Barry arranged a 2013 meetup in Paris. They went for a bike ride, through which she complained of back pain, and then went to his hotel to chat. He reminded her that he was a doctor, she provided a massage to her, speaking in medical conditions, and says. Because he was a mentor, she trusted him#x2014;until, she says, he touched her genitals and breasts, and she fled. “#x2019; t & I actually didn find it coming, and I’m careful,” she says. “This time my protector was low. ” She reported the incident to authorities then visited with a doctor.

“I totally deny her accusations,” Barry says, adding that the inquiries that followed contributed to “a painful time for me and my spouse. ”

Baydaroglu showed signs of psychological distress she said were linked to a physical attack, according to a copy of a May 31, 2013, doctor’s report reviewed by . According to a copy of a letter sent from France’s Office of the Prosecutor, it declined to pursue the case because police hadn’t managed to locate Barry.

After Baydaroglu separately reported the alleged attack singularity began its evaluation. Barry abandoned that summer’s program in June; his wife was ill, and the company told students he left for personal reasons. At a June 22, 2013, email to Baydaroglu reviewed , a Singularity human resources official told her lien thought “the facts around the central allegation of unwanted sexual touching are inconclusive” but that he told Barry the circumstances signaled “poor judgment. ” The officer wrote that Barry wouldn’t be present for the remainder of this 2013 GSP and asked Baydaroglu not to discuss the subject with different parties.

The email outlined steps Singularity was taking to reduce the likelihood of staffers being in “potentially intimate scenarios” on campus, including prohibiting them from being alone with a student at the conclusion of a program day and installing webcams to monitor classrooms. Baydaroglu says Singularity’s response left her feeling depressed and betrayed. Especially galling, she says, was#x201C;requesting me not to talk about it. ” The company declined to talk about the case except to mention Barry hasn’has been a busy faculty member since 2013.

Leaders have a history of unethical practices. After the organization was in its infancy in 2009, Alicia Isaac, the financial controller, used its credit cards to create $13,500 in private purchases; she also kept the money out of a $2,000 check to Singularity, according to a subsequent police report. And she helped the president of an artificial intelligence institute attempt to steal nearly $80,000. Police arrested Isaac in 2009; she pleaded no contest to felony fraud charges. Isaac didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Another early Singularity architect, Bruce Klein, was convicted in 2012 of running a credit fraud surgery in Alabama. #x2019 & he;s no more associated with the provider. Board member Naveen Jain was convicted of insider trading in 2003. He appealed a $247 million judgment and ultimately settled.

Nail, who formerly helped found an automation company, arrived in late 2011 with Chief Strategy Officer Gabriel Baldinucci, a former Virgin Group executive. They soon changed Singularity from a nonprofit to a for-profit B Corporation, so a private accreditor certifies it satisfies certain social and environmental standards.

For years several staffers near Baldinucci lived alongside him in a succession of rented houses known as the SU Villa, in Atherton and Woodside, Calif.. Other employees say the group got positive treatment and the overall feeling was unfriendly to girls. Eleanor Schuermann, a lawyer at Kastner Kim LLP, is representing a staffer who alleges Singularity discriminated against her because of her gender and disability, paid less than guys in the same place, and retaliated against her for complaining. The attorney’s filings with state authorities, the very first steps toward a litigation, aren’t yet public document. Schuermann, who wouldn’t name her customer, says she’s learned from two additional Singularity employees about similar statements. The company declined to comment on the case but says it works hard to support girls.

Singularity is quite a distance from 2009, when the first GSP led to the production of Getaround, a car-sharing company that’s raised $85 million from shareholders including Toyota Motor Corp. “It’s amazing everything has happened here,” Google’s Page said throughout the program’s launching ceremony the next year. “It exceeded my expectations. ” These days, Page isn’t engaged with Singularity. Kurzweil doesn’t dare that while he attends board meetings, he rarely speaks.

Anderson, the new chairman, says the company expects to meet its revenue and societal goals. Nail says it’s making good on some of its grander ambitions, mentioning work on United Nations anti-hunger attempts. However, he says, Singularity can perform much better: “We’re nowhere near affecting the billion individuals our pupils talk about. ” 

    BOTTOM LINE – Singularity is using a $32 million lifeline to maneuver its programming hard toward a series of executive training seminars and conventions.

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