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Silicon Valley’s Singularity University Is Cutting Staff, CEO Exits

Sarah McBride

(Bloomberg) -- Singularity University, a Silicon Valley institute offering education on futurism, is reckoning with its own uncertain future. The chief executive officer is stepping down, and the organization plans to eliminate staff.

The changes were outlined in an email Tuesday reviewed by Bloomberg that was sent to faculty by Erik Anderson, the executive chairman. They mark an extended decline for the company, which has in recent years lost an annual grant from Google and faced allegations of sexual assault, embezzlement and discrimination.

Rob Nail, who ran Singularity for the last eight years, is leaving to pursue new career opportunities, Anderson wrote in the email. Singularity is conducting a CEO search, said a spokesman. The announcement of job cuts was made in line with U.S. labor law, which requires 60-day notice for companies with more than 100 employees, the spokesman said.

Singularity declined to specify how many jobs would be affected, but a person familiar with the matter put the total at about 60. This person said many of those workers were informed of the news while attending a Singularity summit in Athens that ended Tuesday.

Singularity, which takes its name from the notion that humans will someday merge with machines, was introduced in 2009 during a TED Talk by futurist Ray Kurzweil. The group operates for profit but with a mandate for social responsibility. Many alumni of its programs credit the organization with teaching them about cutting-edge concepts and helping them think more expansively.

Others complain the programs are over-hyped and culturally toxic. One former student alleged she was assaulted in 2013 by an astronaut who taught at Singularity. Several executives have been accused of financial wrongdoings, including theft and fraud. Google ended its support of a key program at Singularity in 2017, although a senior program manager at Google, Jen Phillips, still appears on the Singularity website as an adviser. (Google told Bloomberg last year that she had left the advisory board.)

In recent years, Singularity has expanded its conference and executive education initiatives, including a weeklong $14,500 program at its Mountain View, California, campus. The flagship Graduate Studies Program, once free to students, is now known as the Global Startup Program and costs $30,000 for two three-week in person programs plus a year’s worth of virtual networking.

In the email sent to faculty Tuesday, Anderson said Singularity would look to increase its number of individual and corporate members. He also conveyed a message from Kurzweil and Peter Diamandis, another founder and executive director. The two men said the need to solve “humanity’s biggest challenges is more important than ever” and that they “remain more dedicated to Singularity than ever before.”

To contact the author of this story: Sarah McBride in San Francisco at smcbride24@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Milian at mmilian@bloomberg.net, Molly Schuetz

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