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Silicon Valley’s Singularity University Has Some Serious Reality Problems

It’s lost Google funding and dealt with allegations of assault and fraud.
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Illustration: Sam Island for Bloomberg Businessweek

The pitch was simple: Forget accredited graduate schools and think big at Singularity University. Google co-founder Larry Page and futurist Ray Kurzweil could be among your lecturers in the Graduate Studies Program at Singularity, named for the notion that humans will someday merge with machines. You’d work in a kind of combination think tank and startup incubator, trying to address challenges as grand as renewable energy and space travel. Kurzweil announced the program during a TED Talk in 2009, adding that the Singularity team had leased its campus from NASA, just east of the agency’s historic Hangar One in Mountain View, Calif. The team received 1,200 applications for its first class of 40 later that year.

Reality hasn’t matched the hype. Previously unreported police files, other documents, and interviews with current and former students and staff paint the picture that almost from the beginning, some Singularity staffers weren’t able to curb their worst impulses. A teacher allegedly sexually assaulted a former student, an executive stole more than $15,000, a former staffer alleges gender and disability discrimination, and Singularity dismissed 14 of about 170 staffers and suspended GSP, now called the Global Solutions Program, after Google withdrew funding last year.