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The Emperor Has No Clothes: Socrates Deconstructs Singularity University

Nikola Danaylov at Singularity University NL

Singularity University is not about the singularity and is not even a university. It is not about abundance and is not an exponential organization.

Then what is Singularity University about?!

Those are the claims I made and the questions I asked, and tried to address, during my recent presentation at a local meetup organized by Singularity University in the Netherlands. Check it out and judge for yourself.

(You can listen to/download the audio file above or watch the videos below. If you want to help me produce more episodes like this one please make a donation!)

Update: About a day and a half after this was originally published, I got a call from SU President Rob Nail and was told I made some good points as well as some bad ones, without specifying which ones are which. We agreed to begin a process where I get enlightened about my mistakes. I am always happy to do that. It may take some time but stay tuned for more. Until I see the evidence, however, my argument stands as is.

This is my very boring and very personal story. But I thought I’d tell it first so that people know what are the kind of mistakes I tend to make and therefore be in a better position to judge whether my deconstruction of Singularity University is one of those, or whether there is more to it. I recommend you save your time, skip watching this video altogether and jump right into the essence of my argument with the next one:

This is the very essence of my deconstruction of Singularity University:

 This is the consequent Q&A session:

I owe special thanks to HJ from PunkMedia.nl for recording the above videos

 

Here is the gist of my presentation The Emperor Has No Clothes: Socrates Deconstructs Singularity University

 

I will slice SU in a variety of ways. Some good and some bad. Some large and some small. Some will make sense and some may not. And some my be just totally wrong. In fact, I very much hope that they are totally wrong.

I will attempt to deconstruct Singularity University’s name, business model, strategic context, mission statement and accomplishments, organizational structure and their global plan.

 

Singularity University’s Business Model in 5 words:

 

Create scarcity to sell abundance

 

…And charge an arm and a leg for it…

Some may call this a paradox. Others can call this hypocrisy. So it is up to you really what you want to call it.

Let me explain further and to do that I need the 3 most seminal books related to Singularity University: the Singularity is Near, Abundance and Exponential Organizations. [4th SU book everyone should read is Future Crimes]

Let’s see how SU fits within the space that each of those postulates:

OK, the Singularity is Near but clearly not near enough for its own titular organization to be actually about the singularity. So, again, as Salim Ismail often says SU is not about the singularity. The question is why is it not?! What is more important than that?! If an organization where Ray Kurzweil is a chancellor, where students get a free copy of The Singularity is Near, and which has the word singularity in its name, is not really about the singularity then what organization ought to be about the singularity? And why name it Singularity in the first place? That’s like saying that chocolate fudge is not about the chocolate?

But let’s not forget. Singularity University is neither about the singularity nor a university. So that’s like saying chocolate fudge is neither about the chocolate nor about the fudge. How much sense does this make to you? I mean what is it about for gods sake?! And if it really is not about the chocolate, and not about the fudge, then, why are we calling it chocolate fudge in the first place?!

OK, enough about the singularity you may say. If it is not about the singularity, it must be about abundance, right?

Remember the business model: Create Scarcity to Sell Abundance

Well, let me give 2 examples: talk about just the most recent 2 examples – David Roberts’ OCE Discovery presentation and the most recent phone call about starting SU chapters in Canada and elsewhere…

In short, in the birthplace of abundance, scarcity rules. And it is even worse because it is not the real natural scarcity one may find but it is one that is manufactured on purpose. We have those lecture videos in abundance. We have keynotes in abundance and as Chiara and the other girl admitted we have all kinds and lots of other SU videos. But not for distribution. Now, to me that sounds more like one of the big music labels from 15 years ago. Or some of the 100-year-old book publishers. But it surely doesn’t sound like the abundance mindset of an exponential organization.

So keep in mind the business model I said: Create Scarcity to Sell Abundance

But the point here is that, despite Peter Diamandis‘ brilliant book on Abundance, Singularity University clearly does not take it seriously because it has both a scarcity mindset AND a scarcity business model.

Let’s talk about the 3rd seminal book that I believe everyone must read – Exponential Organizations:

The question is simple – is Singularity University an exponential organization?

Well, let me answer it this way: To this day I have not met one faculty member or GSP student of any year who has told me that they thought SU is an ExO. In fact, in my recent interview with Salim even he said that Singularity University is not.

So the question is how long can you sell others on the idea of ExO’s if you are clearly not one?

I already touched on the name and the books, and the discrepancy thereof. Let me talk about Singularity University’s Mission Statement now i.e. its Massively Transformative Purpose:

Positively Impacting 1 billion people within 10 years

..and, we are not even close to the 125-250 million people we should be at if it is an ExO and follows its own goal’s stated timeline.

Let’s further judge Singularity University on its own record and according to its own goal to “educate, inspire and empower leaders to apply exponential technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges”

Has it been successful?! You may say “Yes” I will say “Not so fast!”

7 years after its beginning, as far as Grand Challenges are concerned I personally fail to see a single grand challenge where Singularity University has directly been able to make a measurable difference, let alone “solving” it.

In addition, when it comes to the “educate, inspire and empower” mandate SU has had some notable success but I would like to suggest that when one takes into consideration the Singularity University resources – its location, trillion dollar network, revenue stream, human resources, sponsorship and so on – it does not have a very good ROI. [Other than in publicity.]

For example, Khan Academy and Wikipedia both have better ROI as far as “educate, inspire and empower” are concerned, with much less hype too. And they are both actually exponential organizations.

If there is one area where SU has been undoubtedly successful it is to feed its own growth, raise and/or charge more money, to hire more people and spread the hype of its own legend. What is worse, I will argue that SU is already starting to show diminishing returns to scale – i.e. as Singularity University grows each unit invested in it will bring about fewer and fewer units of the desired outcome, while the previous two examples arguably still show accelerating returns per units invested. And that is one of the major differences between an exponential and classic organization.

Here are some other problems with Singularity University i.e. major obstacles to achieving its own mission statement – some are tactical and some are strategic:

Tactical: Singularity University’s current model does not scale

In my view SU is not an exponential organization; it does not scale. The business model of bringing people to a location and educating them is a thousand years old. Flying over and doing customer specific seminars is better but is still only a marginal improvement on that. So, in short, the tactical problem is that Singularity University has embraced a closed garden, classic scarcity educational model.

So perhaps the biggest break-through will come in a tactically new business model and structure which scales well – just like the Khan Academy, Udacity, Courcera etc, are all scalable and structurally new in a way that SU is not. Now, I am not saying Singularity University should necessarily become Khan Academy, but I am saying that it cannot claim to be a 21st century organisation, and hope to scale up its impact, if it is embracing an old model and structure – as it currently is. So, instead of embracing what has existed for a millennia, SU must be brave in innovating and embracing a new type of institutional structure and business model.

For example, currently SU is a closed garden – i.e. the only way that people can learn any useful material is to join one of the paid programs and attend Singularity University. In this sense, SU is actually very much behind the curve of even “old fashioned” universities that have the courage to put their courses on-line for free. SU so far has been lacking any such courage which means it is even further behind than old-school universities: What’s the use of improving your curriculum every 3 months if only a tiny number of people paying big money will actually see it?! Is that the way to make exponential change?!

For example, I am hearing from a number of people that some faculty at SU are afraid to publish the gold mine of hundreds of videos that SU has been sitting on for years because they are afraid nobody will actually attend the paid programs afterwords. Now, do MIT, Stanford and Harvard not have the same problem?! Then why are they fearlessly publishing many of their own courses for free?! Why Tesla can open-source all of their amazing innovation and SU cannot?! What organization is more likely to go exponential?!  Whose ideas are more likely to spread?

In short, if SU wants to change the world it has to be the living example of an exponential organization that is clearly changing the world. The longer the gap between its preaching and its own self persists the more its credibility is going to diminish.

Other tactical flaws: 

Singularity University is elitist and top down – it seeks to make change from the top down via “leaders” rather than the bottom up via, for example, networks. [It is also convenient for SU that usually leaders can pay while masses of people cannot]

Singularity University has financial incentives not to change: both personally – where key SU people likely have a personal and/or financial stake at SU, but also institutionally – where SU takes a cut from incubated businesses, which is fine if its main mandate is to produce businesses and to make money. But as long as this is not its mandate then this mechanism is not optimal.

Singularity University has a paid model of education – i.e. it aims to educate but only those who have money to pay for it. And if you don’t then SU provides no help whatsoever.

Singularity University has a single model of implementation aimed at accomplishing its goal – have an idea, start a company, create a product or service to sell – so that SU can have their 5%, and you will change the world. Well, if the Internet, the WWW or Wikipedia were created in SU they would have failed miserably because none of them fits that simplistic Silicon valley monetization model. And it is hard to argue they did change the world and maybe they did it because luckily those entities didn’t embrace the SU model. This single model, however, also leads to a lack of structural diversity of the SU projects because they have to fit the one and only mold proposed as opposed to following a more natural evolution-type of an approach which leads to diverse outcomes.

Singularity University is centralized, bureaucratic and hierarchical and is becoming even more so. Naveen Jain himself told me a couple of years ago that SU is becoming such a bureaucracy that is impossible to get anything done.

Strategic Flaws: Embracing an old socio-economic paradigm.

Singularity University is not looking at creating a new socio-economic paradigm but instead takes the easy road of seeking the most comfortable way to fit in the current one.

Salim often says during his presentations that “SU is not a university and is not really about the singularity”.

I covered the first point already and gave examples of how in some ways even traditional universities are more courageous, more current and even more impact-full than SU currently dares to be. Others such as Udacity and Khan Academy are clearly more scalable. So if Singularity University is not a university then why is it running what is more-or-less an old university model?!

During exponential finance many speakers gave examples of shortsightedness and inability to focus on the longer term so why is Singularity University only focusing on the 5 to 15 years from now – at the most? Why do we not focus at least a little bit on the potential ways of how our current socio-economic capitalist paradigm is likely to change the closer we get to the singularity?!

To me capitalism is by far the best that we have so far but it is not different from other economic systems – it was born during the industrial revolution and is rather likely to die in our lifetime – before or around the singularity. This is what evolution is all about – nothing stays forever, nothing is ever perfect but is always changing and evolving. Thus it only makes sense that capitalism as we know it will also have to at least change or potentially even go extinct.

I am not saying Singularity University should not make money or not embrace capitalist models. It absolutely should. But it should not be limited only to those. And it seems to me that currently SU is a classically structured organization with a corporate model focused on selling, making money, spreading the Silicon Valley capitalist gospel and riding the exponential wave as much as possible rather than being the living example of creative innovation – be it structurally – as a new kind of institution, or strategically – as one focused on fundamentally different strategic goals than anyone else.

And so the main implication of all of the above is that Singularity University is not structured to actually address its own mandate. If SU wants to change the world it has to naturally start with itself and be the living embodiment of the change it seeks to spread. And this is much different from being “a benefit corporation” or whatever other legalese non-sense it currently is.

[This point was skipped due to shortage of time:]

The Singularity University Global Plan revolves around 3 elements chapters, salons and competitions.

We have videos but we are not allowed to distribute them. If you want a local speaker it has to be approved by SU headquarters AND you have to apply for licence. Think about this: are exponential organizations those who need to issue a license to have a saloon? Or are they the ones where decentralization rules?

Tightly regulated branding. Everyone in the chapters participates as a volunteer but only past graduates can be chapter leaders. Which, of course means, just like if you are a scientologist for example, that you have to pay to climb the organizational latter. Chapters must be non-profit. But they secure sponsors and run events and competitions. Roman Catholic Church is also non-profit. But all the profit, the control, the power, branding and the credit flows to the center. While all the work is, of course, done by the periphery.

“Bringing Singularity University to this place and bring SU to that place.” So SU has become the mission. Where as I thought that the mission is to improve the life of a billion people and SU is hopefully the best means to achieve that. But that is what happens to all beurocracies – their first rule is self-perpetuation and self-preservation. Roman Catholic Church done the Silicon Valley Way. With scaled franchising and all.

Singularity University is like the Catholic Church – everything material etc flows to the center and is controlled by it. More and more tightly than ever.

It is like SU is saying: The emperor is dead long live the emperor — the gatekeepers are gone so let all old gatekeepers come to SU because we are the gatekeeper of exponential technology and the Gods of disruption. And so again, in essence, it is the same old cry “the Emperor is dead long live the emperor.” My cry here tonight is rather different: “The emperor is dead. SU has no clothes. The hell with the monarchy. Long live the republic.”

At any rate, time is advancing so let me finish here with Peter Diamandis’ brilliant 6 D’s of Exponentials:

Digitalized – it is absolutely not digitized. That’s why a small-time amateur blogger like me can have more traffic on my YouTube channel than Singularity University.

Deceptive – yes it is deceptive, it sells exponential i.e. it sells something it does not have in the first place. How can you sell exponential org if you are not one?

Disruptive – Yes, it is very disruptive but mostly to people’s and organizations’ bank accounts. Started by charging around $100,000 went through $200,000 and, most recently from 1/4 to 1/2 of 1 million dollars per event. Clearly it will reach a billion dollars way before reaching a billion people. And will disrupt the balance of a number of bank accounts no doubt. Started not for profit and now it’s somewhat half way but the reality is that it is totally for profit if you actually watch what’s being done.

Furthermore, how disruptive and exponential can be a few middle-aged people who fly first class and ask for half a million to do a two day event?!  Revolutions are made by the young and the poor… I can think of a few people whose middle name is disruption and they don’t fly in first class and don’t make the big money. The people who do are business people. People who disrupt, well they just go around and disrupt… its’ what they do, whether they are getting paid or not.

Dematerialized – Singularity University is geographically clustered, based on in-person learning and funded by an artificial scarcity based business model.

Demonetized – it is the exact opposite of that. It is very monetized and trying to be even more so all the time by raising its prices and creating artificial scarcity.

Democratized or Decentralized – Singularity University is neither. It is a classic top down pyramidal structure. So there is nothing fundamentally new, democratized or decentralized about it.

And so I find it be a great irony of exponentials that 7 years later Singularity University is none of those things either.

Conclusion:

As I said in the beginning of my talk today: The Emperor has No Clothes.

Our emperor has no clothes my friends.

Singularity University is not about the singularity. SU is not a about abundance. SU is not an exponential organization. And the exponential irony is that SU charges enormous amounts of money by going to all kinds of organizations that are none of those things themselves and asks them:

Do you know about the Singularity? Do you know about abundance? Do you know about exponential organizations?

And then tells them that they should listen if they want to survive.

And of course, this is what I just did. And so I do hope that SU has a big fat check for me today – and I am happy with only $100,000 because I am giving them the warning they love and get paid to give to others. Which is simply this:

Disrupt yourself or be disrupted. Lead by example and from the front. Seek to monetize abundance, rather than scarcity. Put the mission before the organization. Live your message. Do these and you will reach your goals. Fail to do so and you will fail as an organization.

So, if Singularity University is not about the singularity, not about abundance and is not an exponential organization then the natural question is, of course:

What is SU all about?!

Well, humor me with this absolutely crazy and totally outlandish hypothesis:

Singularity University is a child of silicon valley. And silicon valley is about one thing: start a business, build it up and sell it. In other words Silicon Valley is about IPO’s. It is about taking companies public. And, the strategic drift that I have been getting based on all the observable changes and what’s been happening for the past few years is that Singularity University follows that mold and is being built up and groomed with the idea to eventually be sold to someone like Google, for example.

So, ultimately, Singularity University is about selling to the highest bidder. Most likely Google.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with that. But that is a fundamentally different purpose than impacting the life of a billion people.

And so where does all of this leave us?!

I honestly have not a clue. But I do know that when the Singularity Hub never called me back to become a staff writer for them that was like winning the lottery because I will not be here tonight if I they had called. Because it would have not occurred to me that I can do it on my own. I also know that while I do love Singularity University SU does not have a monopoly over exponential technology, disruption or the future of humanity. So while it is great to have a strong organization it is even better if we have more than one. We need many, many Singularity Universities. That is why for example when people are sometimes surprised that I allow other tech bloggers and podcasters to post on my blog, link to their sites and quote “steal my audience”, I reply that it is totally awesome. Because I believe in the mission more than I believe in my own organization. Because I believe we need many, many singularity universities, singularity blogs and singularity podcasts. And because I believe in abundance.

And so I plan to keep doing what I do best. Even if, at times, that comes at a high price. And I think that now you may have a better idea as to what that might look like. But in the end of the day I am not here to be right. And I am not here to make money. Unless, of course, Yuri has my $100,000 check somewhere there. I am here to start a conversation. I am here to tell you that our Emperor has no clothes and it is our responsibility to say it loud and clear.

And so, in that sense, I admit that I am here to make a ruckus.

But the rest is up to you.

And so, as always, the question is:

What are YOU going to do?!

Thank you very much for your time!

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  • Jack Splay

    Absolute advantage denied for myopic relative advantage. The real control-problem, if it can be or ever was had at all in the first place, is who will have it in the end – the how will be lost for the who as usual. Well delivered Socrates. Truth to power!

  • Seamus Laverty

    Interesting take on SU, might cause you some trouble with future interviews, but very admirable that you are taking a stand. SU clearly doesn’t want to create the keynesian dream, although I am sure you knew this long ago.

  • Yeah I did. I am risking even the tiny bread crumbs that I have. For the vague thing called principle…. And Socrates was sentenced to death. So, not being able to get more interviews and risking it all is nothing compared to what he did…

  • Seamus Laverty

    Maybe so regarding Socrates BC but Socrates AD is pretty cool too. You should maybe consider checking out Michel Bauwens. Like Jeremy Rifkin, he is interested in the idea of the Commons . I saw him at a lecture in Belfast a few months back. He posts quite a bit on it too. I think the commons is one of the best ways to stop Disruption disrupting people. https://www.facebook.com/mbauwens?fref=ts

  • Dave Sonntag

    You will not find anything on the SU webpage about cost of the various programs. That only comes once you get accepted into a program. Just their five-day “Executive Program” will set you back $14K. That exceeds the cost of most professional education programs I have attended by at least 2-3X. Selling abundance through scarcity indeed. Thanks again for a great post.

  • RononDisqus

    SU reminds me of Theranos. Heavy on hype, claims to the throne not by demonstrating merit but because… they told you they have the right to the throne and all the beautiful people are associated with them. A very old game.

  • Linda MacDonald Glenn

    I commend you, Nikola! I love this: “Disrupt yourself or be disrupted. Lead by example and from the front. Seek to monetize abundance, rather than scarcity. Put the mission before the organization. Live your message. Do these and you will reach your goals. Fail to do so and you will fail as an organization.”

  • kevinee

    Bravo. Don’t know why I didn’t see this myself.

  • Thank you for posting this presentation! It verbalized the discomfort that I’ve had for a while now as I’ve watched these guys put up paywalls and migrate from video content to teaser trailers over the past few months. Your blog is really the only singularity-themed anything that I follow closely anymore and I’m a little disappointed in that. If anything I should get more and more excited day after day about something as big as “the singularity”. But the SU product increasingly feels like vaporware on its best day and snake oil on its worst. I would love to see you do a follow up to this looking for exponential organizations that that aren’t “selling out” and truly believe the “mission” is more important than the money.

  • dziga

    Well done analysis, biting and most necessary critique! A closer review would be interesting to put out for the hoi polloi. Such manner of institutions would benefit from allocating at least 1/2 of their resources to supporting dispersions and dynamic rhizomic networks / networking —around the same issues. SU appears to be frightened to embrace its own rhetoric. Even the branding feels old style status quo. God I miss the early days of the net…when the utopian impulse had not yet been bought, sold, domesticated by corporate and institutional hierarchical grey.

  • Ch. Ed. Culpepper III

    A bold, decisive and admirable critique. In the short run I believe you will pay a large price for speaking truth to power. In the middle run I believe you will pay a significant price. And I believe that in the long run you will look back on this moment – your explication – as one of the best things you have ever done with your blog. I hope you and singularityweblog survive the inevitable blow back and back draft.

    You have surely made enemies by this. But if you want to speak above pablum, then making
    enemies is unfortunately, just one of the costs of admission into serious conversation. I am very confident you and your blog will not only survive, but will become better than ever. I think it is now quite obvious that you and your blog have become one of the most important components of the bridge from yesterday to tomorrow. I commend you deeply. I support you wholeheartedly. I believe in your improving success unreservedly. My best to you and yours.

  • beachmike

    I look forward to a response to your critique of SU by Ray Kurzweil, Peter Diamandis, or others principals at SU.

  • Great speech! We need gamification of learning, business and ideology. That’s one way to the singularity.

  • Josef Svenningsson

    Well done! These things need to be said and I admire your courage to speak out despite the risk you run of not getting interviewees and talk opportunities. We need more talks like this.

    Here’s a wish for an upcoming blogpost/talk: the Singularity University done right. You’ve clearly shown how broken SU is. The question now is how to do it right. Your mission is not very different from SU’s supposed mission of spreading knowledge about the singularity. You have clearly adopted some exponential technologies with your blogging and videos. But you are just one person and there are many more ways of spreading the message than the way you’re doing it. How would you create an exponential organization/movement to spread the word about the singularity?

  • Justin Waters

    SU is just a networking club for the super rich and privileged. Great article!

  • Thanks Charles, I agree I am likely to pay for this, one way or another. But really hope this moment is not the best I can do, with or without my blog.

  • Yes Josef, I am just one person. A lone wolf if you will. Just like Socrates was. And that is my greatest strength, as well as my biggest weakness, at the same time. It is hard, perhaps impossible for a warrior to be a good farmer. Different skills. Different personality. I hear what you are saying. I am not sure I am the person for it. At least not yet. I need a long way to go in terms of personal growth…

  • Thank you Nikola. I feel like you just saved a lot of people a lot of money.

  • CM Stewart

    The student becomes the teacher.

  • Josef Svenningsson

    Right. But even if you’re not going to be the one to create an exponential organization, at some point I’d still like to hear your thoughts on what SU would look like if done right.

  • Nice but I hope the impact might be a bit better than that.

  • Not really. I didn’t really teach them anything. Just a gadfly, that’s all.

  • We actually had a semi-secret committee – chaired by Salim Ismail and attended by a dozen others from SU, to save SU from becoming its worst enemy – a classic top-down heavy pyramid-shaped organization. We got together over a year ago and for more than 6 months. We made proposals to SU. But were ignored completely… This and other details will become clear once I publish the Q&A video which I don’t have yet. Still awaiting to be sent from the Netherlands.

  • Josef Svenningsson

    Interesting! Looking forward to the video!

  • Jan Doeschot

    Wow, Nikola I am blown away. I have felt the whole thing was a self congratulatory elitist mess for a while. But for you to call them out like this takes massive balls. But as an alumnus of SU you were the prefect person to do so. I really hope this will change something. Anyway, massive respect…

  • Cesar Castro

    Very well written and lots of good points. I think of your most basic point: Singularity University is not about the Singularity and is not a University. The closed garden aspect is very troubling, especially in this day of open access. Imagine how influential they could be just by opening up? And guess what: opening up could actually generate even more revenue and dramatically increase their network (if your hypothesis about wanting to be acquired is true). And don’t most Silicon Valley companies get valued by the sheer size of its network (I’m thinking WhatsApp as an example)?

    I’ve been to their campus and know a few of their faculty. I’ve met people who have scrimped and saved in order to have enough money to cover the cost of attendance. I’m sure it’s a worthwhile experience, but as you point out, don’t sell yourself as one thing and then deliver something different.

    In the interest of balance, I’d love for you to share any direct response you get from SU.

  • CM Stewart

    So you’re positive no higher ups at SU will listen and learn from this?

  • Actually emotionally I hope I am wrong and want to give them the benefit of the doubt. Historically and logically however things look rather different. So let’s give them some time to come up with a response and we’ll see 😉

  • TonyStark

    You’re off base on a few points.

    1. The core program, GSP, is now free to *all* admitted students. Even before, many received full scholarships.

    2. It is absolutely reasonable for Singularity’s accelerator program to take a small equity stake after putting in $100k and working space and mentorship for a startup. They also give free grants of $50k to nonprofits.

    3. Just because the classroom model is an old one does not mean it is a bad one. Khan Academy and Udacity may educate the world through online videos, but they will never bring together smart people to solve big problems like universities and accelerators do. Posting online videos is easy. Building companies is hard.

    I think you have misunderstood the whole mission of SU, which is not (merely) education but chiefly problem-solving. The goal of SU is not to be abundant or exponential (what would that even look like?), but to bring together leaders who can go out and create abundance and exponential organizations. While posting Youtube lectures would be a welcome step, the true value of Singularity University is not the lectures, but the people who attend.

    You might have a better chance becoming a staff writer if you learned to spell check!

    Former SU GSP’er

  • Thanks very much Mr. Stark, I knew SU will start bringing the big guns and I am not disappointed 😉

    Now, to your points:

    1. I was actually one of those who got a full scholarship myself. But the point here was a bit different: MIT, Harvard, Standford, CalTech all give scholarships AND post many of their best courses and content for free on-line. So why not both?! Which one is the abundance and which one is the scarcity mindset in your own view?

    2. I was there when SU had no accelerator, was a not-for-profit organization, had a totally different ethos and took only 2% stake in the companies it gave birth to. So it is quite a change. Moreover, there is absolutely no problem with any of those things you named – they are great. But they are rather different in my view, and sometimes contradictory, to the official goals stated at the inception of SU.

    3. I never said classic school model is bad. I just said it is classic and that does not mesh well with the message of being exponential, having an abundance mindset or being about the singularity. Building companies is very hard indeed. There are many, many great accelerators that do just that. I was personally hoping SU will not be one of them many such organizations; that it will be different.

    4. As per the mission of SU – it is possible I have misunderstood it and it is not to “merely educate”. My point was that so far – given the alternatives, ROI is rather poor and limited on both measures – both education and impact.

    5. Finally, on you point about being a staff writer: This happened 6+ years ago when the singularityhub was a thing on its own and was not a part of SU. So, I have never actually applied to be a staff writer for SU. Not my style. And, about the spelling mistakes, I wrote my speech on the airplane and in the hotel in Rotterdam. It was not for publication but was intended to be presented as video and audio only. However, someone asked me to publish it and so I did. Despite anticipating attacked like this one. But that’s ok. I am cool with that. Some will focus on the packaging. Others on the contents. It is, as I said in the end, up to you entirely…

  • TonyStark

    There’s no “big guns” here. I’m just a former student who saw this, and I want to set the record straight. I do not speak on behalf of SU any more than you do.

    Great, post online videos. But that’s no warrant for saying the emperor has no clothes. The emperor just lost his socks.

    I disagree with your thesis. The accelerator, company-building model is absolutely the right way to go. That is the road to impact, not just Youtube lectures.

  • The “big guns” was reference to your Iron Man alias my friend. 😉

    At any rate, I get it that you disagree with my thesis. Interestingly, while I was pretty sure I’d be crucified and yet so far 99% of the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive including former and present GSP, employees and faculty.

    So far you are number 5 showing disagreement and I have had 1,000+ agreeing – as I said many former GSP and even current faculty at SU. Just look at the comments either here or on YouTube or Facebook or Twitter and see for yourself.

    So, let everyone judge for themselves. I have drawn my line in the sand. You can place yours wherever you judge is best.

  • Ch. Ed. Culpepper III

    Proviso: I am not defending Nikola. He does not need defense in this case. If he did
    need defense, I am sure he is more capable of defending himself than I would be. My defense would only muddy the waters.

    I find the phrase “to *all* admitted students” to be too facile. Such a comment demands elaboration, that you did not supply. Capitalism is great, but charging for
    education has now become counterproductive and is an archaic practice, doomed to the dustbin of history.

    “Reasonable” and “small” are both a relative and subjective terms, which require elucidation, that you did not supply. Changing from a non-profit to a profit based entity is fine only if you do not imply that you are one thing, when you are another different thing.

    The classroom model was an excellent model for thousands of years. Now it has become a drag on learning rather than a facilitator or expediter. In my opinion the only possible educational model that can keep up with the present rate of societal change, would be simulator environments, in which the student is forced to solve real
    problems in real time. If you look back to the 1 Feb 1985 Playboy Magazine interview with Steve Jobs, you can find him making a similar point.

    Saying that SU is not about their being “exponential” or “abundant” in no way responds to Nikola’s argument that it would be appropriate for an organization espousing exponential and abundant principles to, if not practice those principles, at least not be antithetical to those principles. It is more than silly to promote something you reject.

    Ending your response to Nikola with a stand-alone-sentence about his spelling is crass. It is fair to correct his spelling, or spelling habits, but to do it in public and in a snarky manner, is demeaning to yourself, patently rude and is a vibrant example of picayune puerility. Mind you I attacking your behavior – I am not practicing ad hominem here.

    Much kudos to you for adding facts to the conversation; but much more so for being classy enough to make a disclosure regarding your being an alum of SU GSP.

  • Ch. Ed. Culpepper III

    In terms of best, I was not alluding to the quality of your speech or writing, rather I was referring to your high-risk stand on your principles.

  • TonyStark

    Free tuition, free food, and free housing for a summer for all GSP students now. They don’t charge! Look it up.

    $100k and workspace at NASA for 10 weeks in exchange for 7-10% equity. That’s market rate for accelerators.

    Yes, the SU GSP and accelerator program both have students tackle real problems in real time. Glad we agree on its value.

    There is a strong correlation between bad spell-checking, bad fact-checking, and bad arguments. The details matter.

  • I’ve addressed those above my friend. But, just so you know, over a year ago I was a part of a somewhat secret arms-length committee aimed at reforming SU. It was chaired by Salim Ismail, and had a dozen GSP alumni as well as current faculty. We spent 6 months and had some specific suggestions on ways to improve. We were ignored – just like I predicted that we will at that time. But there was a clear recognition of internal problems. Those same problems I talked about in my speech.

  • James Webster (Gam30ver)

    I have to commend you for posting this, it certainly resonated with me. I felt their “business” model was very outdated especially for people who claim to want to help change the world and bring about abundance (but only if you bring your checkbook). It’s a shame because if anything their approach will probably be more damaging than positive with regards to promoting the Singularity in any sort of positive light.
    Like one of the other commenters here suggested you may have cost yourself some interviews down the line. But the Singularity is bigger than anyone person or organization, so you don’t need them.

  • Maybe not. But depending on the kind of response they chose to pursue it can possibly knock me out 😉

  • DevilDocNowCiv

    Socrates,

    First, tip of the hat to your namesake. However-you note that capitalism is only one of several that could be used. Other ed systems use it, or Gov subsidy plus gifts, or it plus Gov subsidy and gifts. This clearly is avoiding gov to maintain its own model and control. Apart from that, what other systems are you thinking of? Socialism? Barter?

  • TonyStark

    Giving a talk at an SU event is one thing. Deriding SU on a public blog is another. Not a great way to repay them for the summer they taught you, housed you, and fed you for free! Newcomers to SU may read this and unduly take a bad impression, when there are so many wonderful things SU offers today and when it is a wonderful privilege to attend and when not all would agree with the direction you might take for SU.

    Throwing rocks from the outside is unlikely to accomplish much or be persuasive. What I see here are well-intentioned but idealistic, futuristic, philosophical criticisms, many of which other SU alumni will agree and disagree with. If you care about Singularity U, and you are serious about reforms, how about internally mobilizing SU faculty and alumni in large numbers (not just a small committee) in support of specific, practical actions?

  • DevilDocNowCiv

    James,

    Well, SU does have a prophet (not claimed, but listen to the “Ray praise” flow-me included, and you see that the term kinda fits). SU has devotee’s. SU has rich or well endowed supporters, and with promising youth being sent to a cloistered institution to study with the faithful.

    Essential difference here, though. SU is a profit making business with a societal goal, not a pre-midieval Imperial state church growing into a warlord led corrupt state church having evolved through a couple thou years to today. I believe Socrates if he says SU is suffering from the classic “peter principle” “man in the grey flannel suit” sort of classic bureaucratic cancer. If that has set in, the steering committee (by whatever name) can be clued in, and all they have to do is talk to Diamandis, Ray, and whoever else are the top dogs. One of it’s virtues is those top dogs.

    They’ve all led or overlooked large corps or their own small but impressive companies, and are impressive individuals. They could apply some models and AI to their structure. I mean that, not trying to make a high tech joke. Organizational structures can certainly be analyzed. Anyone who had a business or business related degree understands this, so SU owes Socrates a strong thanks for the heads up, and I hope as both a Ray and Diamandis supporter that they read this article.

  • Jack Splay

    As a complete outsider that is what I suspected might be the only rational motivation for “students”. Except I always figured the super-technically-clever might get a look in somehow too regardless of monetary wealth or connection. I figured the powers behind it were primarily just playing a numbers game. You don’t need many of the next Killer Start-ups to fall out of it all to justify it monetarily. Everything else, like feeding RK and Co’s insatiable egos, is then just a bonus.

  • Jack Splay

    So your complaint doesn’t go to what he is doing, but only how he is doing it, and only then inasmuch as how he is doing it will not have sufficient impact.

    Of course I am above ignoring your call to keep the laundering private as a pleasant bonus. It seems to me transparency is one of the things he is calling for. So, whether he throws the rocks from within or without it seems they ought to damage the facade regardless. Idealism?

    And, we all know there are no free lunches. This public forum is Nikola’s business, and the self-censorship you seem to be calling for, sounds to me a lot like the price you think he should now pay. Was that in the contract?

  • Jack Splay

    So your complaint doesn’t go to what he is doing, but only how he is doing it, and only then inasmuch as how he is doing it will not have sufficient impact. Of course I am here ignoring your call to keep the laundering private as a pleasant bonus – ultimately a fantasy.

    It seems to me transparency is one of the things he is calling for. So, whether he throws the rocks from within or without it seems they ought to impact, if not penetrate, the facade regardless. As an outsider I see heroes like Nikola either standing with me delivering the message to the inside, or inside getting it out to me. Idealism?

    And, we all know there are no free lunches. This public forum is Nikola’s business, and the self-censorship you seem to be calling for, sounds to me a lot like the price you think he should now pay. Was that in the contract?

  • Jack Splay

    What kind they are, as for any entity can only be gauged by the kind of their response. Whatever the response, if any, better to know sooner than later what kind you are and have been dealing with.

    You might hope to better the nature of a system from within. All it takes for evil to flourish is good people to do nothing and all that. But, a corrupt system is more likely to corrupt you than to be reformed by you, if you don’t put your own integrity first!

  • About a day and a half after this was originally published, I got a call from SU President Rob Nail and was told I made some good points as well as some really bad ones. We agreed to begin a process where I get enlightened about my mistakes. I am always happy to do that. It may take some time but stay tuned for more.

  • TonyStark

    My complaint is this piece is not a fair and balanced portrait of SU but rather a lopsided Christmas list of things that don’t exist in the real world today and would be untenable to act upon. Many of the suggestions are either poor ways to run the program or pie-in-the-sky. For example, being geographically clustered and student leaders-based and having in-person, startup-forming programs (and, speaking of demonetizing, free programs!) are good things for a solutions-producing organization, not bad. That’s how teams get built to create great projects and real impact.

    My point is not about self-censorship but of value. It’s cheap and easy to post a blog page; it’s costly and hard but exceedingly more valuable to improve programs from the inside and gain consensus on action items with many members of the community. I’m saying why throw rocks at all when you can sit down around a table and get the facts and hash things out and build the future? A lot of due diligence is missing here.

  • Ch. Ed. Culpepper III

    Your statement is very interesting, but not really on topic. Where can we communicate about your statement, other than cluttering up the response space to Nikola’s article?

  • javi creus

    hello Socrates,

    Very interesting article and deconstruction, thanks for sharing. It is really a paradox that (so far) SU has not embraced exponential thinking to push their educational impact.

    You might be interested in the pentagrowth model (www,pentagrowth.com) which describes the five levers of exponential growth used by 50 organizations (wikipedia, airbnb,…) that had grown more than 50% on income and users for 5 years in a row.

    Five levers are: connect networks, collect inventory, empower citizens, enable partners, share knowledge

    javi

  • Nik my friend, you have poked a finger into the eye of a much larger idea, or perhaps I should say ideology–SU fosters the notion we are heading for a singularity, but if they cannot see their own apparent erroneous assumptions about exponential technology and disruption (problems are in part: ontologic and epistemic), then why should we have faith in their prognostications about the future of humanity. Although prediction of the kind SU is engaged in is not science, one might be inclined to follow a leader who demonstrates on reflection that they’d exercised sound logic, good judgment, about matters in their wheelhouse, and in this particularly case, demonstrated an accurate or true way of looking at things essential to their mission.

  • I got email from Singularity University customer who said I gave more ROI to ‪#‎SU‬ for less $ than SU did for them. Advised me to get my $100K. What do you think? 😉

  • ChrisF

    What a load of old cobblers. A self-professed “stupid blogger who can’t pay his rent” has the arrogance to stand up and publically explain to the *billionaire* owners of a highly profitable business (one that rakes in countless *millions* a year) what they’re doing wrong. Riiiight.

  • Indeed. Imagine that messed up world where a poor stone-mason, living off the voluntary support of his followers, had the stubborn audacity to confront the aristocracy of his day and show them they did not know what they thought they did. Of course, eventually he got sentenced to death. And things got properly fixed up.

  • Ch. Ed. Culpepper III

    Please, Chrisf, forgive my limited ability to understand what you are saying. I humbly beseech you. Are you saying that truth is dependent on purchasing power, that intelligence is dependent on purchasing power, or that both are dependent on purchasing power?

  • Christopher Carr

    That’s almost as much as the semester abroad program I attended in Tokyo — at an expensive private university, including room and board.

    Sheesh.

  • Jack Splay

    Hard things Tony are built of many smaller seemingly easier things. A person might reform the whole world but any particular action along the way might be dismissed as trivial. Likewise, any individual might never act for their impact seeming imperceptible, but collectively individual actions make all the difference.

    Whatever SU is about it is about knowledge. And, perhaps relationships besides. But the latter is essentially about communication, and, at the very least communication is about trivia and at most/best knowledge, anyway!

    To make the case that the preacher is an exception to what she preaches is always a fraught exercise. One way it might be done is to preach that there are at least two types of enterprise. One that the preaching is applicable to and, other/s that aren’t and of which the preaching belongs. This case gets hard to maintain though when other prominent preachers clearly locate their own enterprise in the domain applicable to your own sermon. Still though you could be the exception.

    However, I find it very hard to believe that an enterprise essentially about KNOWLEDGE, isn’t subject to ideas of abundance, scalability, disruption etc… You are here besmirching Nikola’s character so perhaps it is you who owes the explanations of how this is the case, as opposed to simply declaring it is the case.

  • David Cornett

    Very interesting to hear your thoughts, especially just after listening to the Salim Ismail interview.

    While I’m not informed enough about SU to have much of an opinion on its merits, it strikes me that hypothetically they can still have an exponential impact on the world through a linear education model…if their students bring exponential change. Ideally, I agree that the exponential curve would go up…exponentially…if the SU organization/teaching model was also exponential.

  • Jack Splay

    I was thinking similar David, and just wrote so somewhere below in fact. It seems to me somebody needs to make the case why maximum growth (your exponential exponentiality) isn’t desirable where the commodity in question is essentially knowledge. We know it is possible.

  • DisquisTL

    Let me say up front that there are some aspects of Singularity University with which I have serious disagreement. The founders and I, and two founders in particular, do not see eye to eye on many, many issues.

    That said…

    He’s right that you get some things right and some things wrong. His reluctance to come down strongly on given issues likely stems from the actual lack of central authority that you claim exists in terms of strict hierarchy.

    Unlike him, I’ll hit the highlights of where you are wrong, IMO.

    First is your point about “creating scarcity to sell abundance”. This is wrong. The scarcity is a pre-existing artifact of being on the wrong side of the actual singularity, and is not something that’s being manufactured.

    “MIT, Stanford and Harvard” can give away their content for free because they have the separate gatekeeper of accreditation to maintain their ability to monetize their value. You may take these universities MOOC’s, but you will not be awarded college credit for them without accreditation. Singularity University does monetization through charging through certification.

    If we agree that monetization is a necessary step for an (effectively) evangelical organization, then we must accept the fact of initial scarcity, and that refusal to acknowledge scarcity would itself be an existential threat to the organization.

    Second, you are incorrect in assigning your opinion of what constitute the most seminal books related to Singularity University.

    You have cherry-picked the books you elect to that position, and then criticize Singularity University by holding him up to what you (for the large part, correctly) believe to be the thematic premise of each of these book.

    Effectively, you have identified authority, and then appealed to that authority to establish your thesis. This does two things:

    (1) It establishes what is, in your opinion, a hierarchy, and therefore a hierarchical relation which you may then criticize for being hierarchical, and

    (2) It present your opinion of the major themas, and forces the defense of those themas

    Both of these are a technique called “transfer of possession”, well known to car salesmen, who ask such questions as “when do you want to sign the paperwork and drive your car home?”, and “are there any other options, such as undercoating, which we should consider on your car?”.

    In more formal terms, this is an assumed premise fallacy.

    The third is the criticism of Singularity University as an exponential organization. This is a fair criticism, and it’s something that Singularity University should own.

    However … the 10 year mark and the 1 billion person mark are really quite an arbitrary line in the sand. The 10 year cut off is a much shorter “long tail” than can be expected, if we accept the 1 billion number, and the 1 billion number is a much larger number than one can expect if one ties the doubling (the usual measure of exponential growth) to a specific clock.

    Again, this is an assumed premise that comes from an arbitrary definition in a book that assumes all human progress which can be though of as exponential will happen on the same pace clock.

    So you’re right, but you’re wrong on this one. The mistake that Singularity University made was in defining their clock pace in their Mission Statement/Massively Transformative Purpose, and your mistake is in holding them to that pace clock.

    I think it’s impossible to not see, for example, Apple, as an exponential organization. Software I wrote there (I wrote about 6% of the Mac OS X/iOS kernel, by lines of code, in my time there) touched the lives of about 1/6th the population of Earth, on a daily basis, and that’s only counting direct users, rather than the indirect users: when you talk to me on your Android phone, with me on my iPhone, or I read your blog written on your MacBook Air in the browser running on my ChromeBook — the non-Apple technology user is indirectly using Apple technology. And that number goes up to 1/2 the population of the Earth directly using my software.

    But by the same token, Apple was founded in 1976, and it’s the eve of 2016: it’s taken 40 years to get to this point.

    So you are arguing, really, about them being not what they say they are, due to their optimistic statements regarding their pace clock.

    This is disingenuous, and really doesn’t constitute proof.

    Fourth. I think it’s impossible to hold Khan Academy up as an example, in any but the most rudimentary sense.

    The problem with Khan Academy is the same accreditation issue. While we can look at Khan Academy as a valuable free service — and in fact it is: a student utilizing it can certainly make up for shortfalls in the public education system — it’s not a substitute.

    We can claim that Khan Academy is capable of substituting for a primary and secondary education for an autodidact … but … say you perform the reductio ad absurdum on Khan academy, and have a motivated autodidact, or a motivated home schooling parent utilizing it as a tool, and suppose it is successful in that role of providing guidance from the point of having achieved basic reading and math skill necessary to get up to runway speed to utilize it as a launch ramp for a successful K-12 education.

    What now? Will you get into Harvard/MIT/Stanford on a full ride scholarship, based on having passed a GED (testing out of High School), as opposed to having maintained a GPA in the traditional system? Even if you score very highly on ACT and SAT admissions testing — and write one hell of an essay — your track record on participation in school sponsored and related extracurricular activities will be poor at best. No chess club. No yearbook editor. No varsity football. And while you may be able to point to other things, such as Little League, or AYSO, or even community organizations — you’re going to fail many of the yardsticks necessary.

    You will have become educated, but you will not have become *measurably* educated, except in the grosses terms.

    Fifth, your measure of scale suffers from your pre-established hierarchy problem. You have to buy the hierarchy argument, rather than the distributed nature of the people involved, as you figure of merit.

    Spreading people out geographically, even if there are geographic Schelling Points involved in the dissemination of materials, is a disingenuous way of looking at what amounts to reach.

    And yes, this reach tends to favor organizations and persons with high discretionary spending limits — but this has been true of any advantage throughout history. What you actually need to look at is rate of participation over time.

    So I think there is something of a fraudulent measure at work here.

    So in conclusion, I think your own conclusions depend from largely false premises.

    NB: Do not get me wrong: I agree with several of them; you have merely failed to make your case prior to stating the conclusions. They do not necessarily follow from the preceding arguments.

    Thanks, if you’ve read this trieste, as I’ve read yours. And definitely keep thinking and writing!

  • Thanks for taking the time to write this and, of course, I read it 😉

    You have an original and interesting approach. Dare I say it’s by far the best and most formidable response from anyone I’ve gotten so far on this topic?! 😉

    But instead of arguing the finer points between you and me, which I suspect we might enjoy a lot better face to face, let me ask you a constructive question or two:

    1. Do you not think that SU has lost moral direction in the past few years? Yes or no?!

    and, more importantly:

    2. Given where we are at right now, with me taking this stupidly strong and public position and all, what in your opinion is the best way to move forward?!

    Not for me, but for SU and for its mission, at whatever clock pace we may chose to tick by?!

    Thank you very much for taking the time and putting the effort to engage with me on this topic!

  • TonyStark

    So just for fun, let’s deconstruct the deconstruction:

    They probably say SU “isn’t really a university” because SU is about knowledge+, namely knowledge plus creation, meaning pushing forward the advent of exponential technologies (not just learning about them). That’s a good thing and the creation part is unlikely to be exponential.

    True, SU isn’t *only* about the singularity. It’s the singularity + the cutting-edge technology of many sectors and about what choices to make in the present pre-singularity. That’s also a good thing.

    Create scarcity to sell abundance? This is an unfair and false accusation to the GSP and accelerator. Also, scarcity exists in everything today (even for bits and online media), being a pre-singularity time, so this is an unfair standard.

    Closed garden? There is an application process to select the most promising candidates to attend, which is physically necessary and also most efficient, having limited resources.

    Is SU an exponential organization? Let’s say the process of training and enterprise-creating is fundamentally linear, not exponential. SU empowers leaders who create abundance and exponential organizations or technologies. Knowledge-spreading can be scalable or exponential; the much harder and much more impactful work of enterprise-creating, not so much. They also employ many exponential / abundance techniques in the everyday.

    Singularity is elitist and top down? GSP and accelerator attendees come from all walks of life, and from many countries, regardless financial ability.

    Singularity seeks to make change from the top down via leaders rather than the bottom up via, for example, networks? Not so fast. Through the GSP, exponential youth program, and accelerator program, SU takes extremely talented individuals and helps them become leaders and entrepreneurs. It’s a bottom-up leader-building model. That’s a good thing.

    Geographically clustered, in-person learning? These are great things, not bad things, for team-building and high-impact. Khan Academy (perhaps like your blog) has great reach but low impact per person. SU has lower reach but much higher impact per person. You’re comparing online educators to a physical university-accelerator institution which is unfair, again. Being a singulatarian doesn’t mean everything is going to be online, exponential, etc. today (or ever).

    Monetized and raising prices? The GSP is free! For other programs, someone has to pay for faculty and food and housing… Stuff isn’t free today in the pre-singularity, even if selective demonetization may be coming in the next decades. Given the programs are probably maxed out on demand and popularity and physically limited on supply by the limited number of faculty and resources and time available, it’s probably not unreasonable for executive prices to go up based on pre-singularity economics. Again, an unfair standard.

    “Singularity is a classic pyramidal structure”. SU is probably legally required to have a hierarchy of board of directors and all, being a Benefit Corp. The ExO book also does not recommend eliminating the C-suite. Organizations need leaders.

    Speaking of books, many SU faculty have slogged away for months and months to write books, articles, and research studies that anyone can get for $10. Talk about democratizing, digitizing, and demonetizing knowledge!

    Speaking of online videos, there is a new video portal on the homepage with dozens and dozens of great content and lecture clips for free, some short and some very long, so they’re moving in that direction. Also accessible if you’re signed up for the newsletter.

    It’s also unfair to hold up SU to the standards of several books which have questionable applicability to running a university-accelerator program vs. a company or social enterprise. Enterprise-creators are different in structure and mission from enterprises, which the books are aimed at.

  • TonyStark

    So just for fun, let’s deconstruct the deconstruction:

    They probably say SU “isn’t really a university” because SU is about knowledge+, namely knowledge plus creation, meaning pushing forward the advent of exponential technologies (not just learning about them). That’s a good thing and the creation part is unlikely to be exponential.

    True, SU isn’t *only* about the singularity. It’s the singularity + the cutting-edge technology of many sectors and about what choices to make in the present pre-singularity. That’s also a good thing.

    Create scarcity to sell abundance? This is an unfair and false accusation to the GSP and accelerator. Also, scarcity exists in everything today (even for bits and online media), being a pre-singularity time, so this is an unfair standard.

    Closed garden? There is an application process to select the most promising candidates to attend, which is physically necessary and also most efficient, having limited resources.

    Is SU an exponential organization? Let’s say the process of training and enterprise-creating is fundamentally linear, not exponential. SU empowers leaders who create abundance and exponential organizations or technologies. Knowledge-spreading can be scalable or exponential; the much harder and much more impactful work of enterprise-creating, not so much. They also employ many exponential / abundance techniques in the everyday.

    Singularity is elitist and top down? GSP and accelerator attendees come from all walks of life, and from many countries, regardless financial ability.

    Singularity seeks to make change from the top down via leaders rather than the bottom up via, for example, networks? Not so fast. Through the GSP, exponential youth program, and accelerator program, SU takes extremely talented individuals and helps them become leaders and entrepreneurs. It’s a bottom-up leader-building model. That’s a good thing.

    Geographically clustered, in-person learning? These are great things, not bad things, for team-building and high-impact. Khan Academy (perhaps like your blog) has great reach but low impact per person. SU has lower reach but much higher impact per person. You’re comparing online educators to a physical university-accelerator institution which is unfair, again. Being a singulatarian doesn’t mean everything is going to be online, exponential, etc. today (or ever).

    Monetized and raising prices? The GSP is free! For other programs, someone has to pay for faculty and food and housing… Stuff isn’t free today in the pre-singularity, even if selective demonetization may be coming in the next decades. Given the programs are probably maxed out on demand and popularity and physically limited on supply by the limited number of faculty and resources and time available, it’s probably not unreasonable for executive prices to go up based on pre-singularity economics. Again, an unfair standard.

    “Singularity is a classic pyramidal structure”. SU is probably legally required to have a hierarchy of board of directors and all, being a Benefit Corp. The ExO book also does not recommend eliminating the C-suite. Organizations need leaders.

    Speaking of books, many SU faculty have slogged away for months and months to write books, articles, and research studies that anyone can get for $10. Talk about democratizing, digitizing, and demonetizing knowledge!

    Speaking of online videos, there is a new video portal on the homepage with dozens and dozens of great content and lecture clips for free, some short and some very long, so they’re moving in that direction. Also accessible if you’re signed up for the newsletter.

    It’s also unfair to hold up SU to the standards of several books which have questionable applicability to running a university-accelerator program vs. a company or social enterprise. Enterprise-creators are different in structure and mission from enterprises, which the books are aimed at.

  • Edward

    The claims made, when compared to the complexity necessary, in order to sustain ‘BIVs’ -if you will, are insufficient. I don’t mind futurism; all ideas in this regard are fine. However, if one wants certain ideas to be taken seriously, beyond “creativity” or the “drawing board,” he/she must offer serious, real-world potential resolutions for such ideas. I’ve not seen such resolutions from SU.

  • Edward

    Dear ChrisF,

    Please go to Linked-In and read some of the “Influencer” pages. The list of writings that include misunderstanding about how the basics of some things work is a long one. The list of writings containing outright ignorance, couched in arrogance and absurdities is also a long one. Please, do yourself this favor and read some of those pages.

    Being good at some thing does not mean someone is good at all things. While there are some very well-read, thoughtful *billionaires* who are good at many things, there is also a good share who lack a broad enough education and skill set to be good at anything more than what they do each day (“rake in countless *millions* a year”). Many lack the proper perspective to support their ideas and claims, but for some, their egos allow them to push on in the face of their ignorance, specifically because they have minions who hold them to be infallible because they make a lot of money. I find this disheartening.

    You may want to consider the possibility that there is more to intellectual rigor than merely being-a-*billionaire* and that being a *billionaire* does not endow one with some special insight that makes him/her a superhero, even in his/her specialty. I say this because the wise *billionaires* accept this proposition. And, it will be the wise *billionaires*, along with the wise professors, the wise students, the wise administrators, the wise partners, together, who will contribute the most useful insights.

  • Well said Edward, very well actually 😉

  • TheLastLeader

    Wow “You have to accept the state of the art comes from the other peoples ideas, not just yours.”

  • TheLastLeader

    Such potential in gamification + VR.

  • DisquisTL

    In order…

    1. I think it was relatively neutral; on the one hand, you started a conversation, which is a good thing, but on the other hand, you expected a level of engagement from them that was likely not going to be forthcoming.

    A blogger is technically not the same level of standing as an L.A. Times or other journalist. And while I think all journalists are deserving of free speech and shield law protections, including bloggers, I can kind of understand that being called out to a relatively limited audience is probably not worth a point by point time commitment on their part.

    Personally, I read incredibly fast, and can type upwards of 130 WPM when doing prose (slower if I spell things correctly), so I had no problem hitting the response I did from the perspective I’m aware of from knowing a lot of the principals at SU personally. So it wasn’t a big time commitment on my part.

    2. I don’t think they’ve lost it particularly much. I have a number of conflicts, which I would call philosophical differences, rather than “catfights” or “feuds”, with people like Vivek Wadhwa (just to give an example, and NOT to call him out in particular).

    If I were running things, I would probably “pull a Tony Robbins”, or “pull a Deepak Chopra”, or pull a “Robert Kiyosaki”, etc., which is to say, put out some basic content that would be generally helpful, but which would not detract from my ability to charge for access to content in order to fund the creation of additional content.

    I think the primary purpose of them instituting this type of financial gatekeeping in the first place is not because they are “well off” and want to be “even more well off”. In other words, I don’t ascribe them a strict profit motive, although I would ascribe a couple of them a “fame motive” or a “Sarah Palin” motive (Sara Palin saw the Tea Party Parade, and IMO, ran home, got her baton and her parade marshal hat, and is now marching in front of them, with frequent looks back to make sure she still looks like the leader, rather than someone following from in front).

    In other words, I think a couple of people there like very much the idea of being thought of as thought leaders, and when they can’t back track on non-canonnical narrative, will instead retrench, to the detriment of the community. But, in fact, there are a large enough group of people involved that there is not significant factionalization over this, and large communities have short memories.

    So, to make a long answer short: “no”.

    3. SU is generally not my way forward. I typically try to find technical solutions to problems, and I generally do not consider “education” to be a technical solution.

    If education could solve all problems, you’d think the human race would have been able to wipe out at least one STD in its entire history, and that just hasn’t happened.

    So in general, I support organizations such as The Institute for Molecular Manufacturing, and The Foresight Institute, and The Methuselah Foundation, etc., etc., many with financial contributions. And yeah, part of their charters tend to be educational outreach — but they aren’t trying to reach everyone, they’re only trying to reach the low hanging fruit, which is to say, the people who want to be reached.

    Nevertheless, I think there is such a thing as social fiction, and socially accepted canon, and if an outreach program can get us there from a doctrinal perspective, that’s another OK approach to take, too.

    If you are asking me “can we make the clock tick faster?” …

    Obviously, that’s another question, and my answer to that is a qualified “yes, but…”.

    It’s possible to manipulate situations in such a way as to influence the outcomes by knowing what the emergent properties for any given set of actions will be, but it tends to have to be done behind the scenes, rather in the spotlight of public observation.

    In terms of public support for the ideas, there are some pretty big power players — in this case, the certification and accreditation authorities, who have their authority because they say they have their authority. You’d have to have someone you’d think would be able to do a better job, and positioned and prepped to do that job.

    As it is, the technology is ticking forward, and the social constructs, such as the outreach by SU, are ticking forward.

    As a technologist by nature, I’d have to say that the best position to be in would be with the social constructs ticking forward faster than the technical, so as to create a draft in which to follow.

    I’ll leave you with two examples; the first is a place where the technology has outpaced the social construct, and the other is a place where the social construct has outpaced the technology:

    (A) Fetal stem cell research : “Let’s think before we act…”

    (B) Flying cars: “Where is my flying car? We were promised flying cars!”

    It’s pretty obvious that the SU tick pace is fast enough that we don’t make another (A), but not fast enough to get a (B), and the concomitant override of “The Powers That Be(tm)” that would override regulatory hurdles, as we are close to there.

    And yeah, face to face is generally fun, when you have the right people at the table… 8^)

  • Atilio Victor Falco

    Impeccable analysis and admirable stance Nikola.
    You should be financed to build your own University and start a much needed well aimed competition. The evangelization of the message should not cost so much money, unless this is a mega-church style of business model. And the results that impact many people should be ever increasing targets in a healthy competition in between research centres/universities.

  • Warmer Sun

    Hey Socrates

    you have balls my friend!

    I’m one of those people who hasn’t got in to the GSP just yet. So I follow the advice you gave in one of your earlier posts and will just try again…

    I think SU is now similar to what TED was in its early days. A kind of elite, private club. Currently the bar is high and the quality of people attending is good, broadening it will have a negative impact on quality but is a necessary evil in order to scale. (Perhaps there are lessons to be learned there from TED and TedX…)

    I also think we need to cut them some slack…

    1. Without SU there wouldn’t be much. Going from zero to one is the hardest and they have done it.

    2. You can’t blame them for making money, or wanting to make money. One can have the best intentions but if it’s not financially sustainable then it will die off…

    3. They are opening up to some degree with live-streaming conferences and the Google scholarship…

    I think your point are totally right. My conclusion is that they deserve a lot of credit and now it is time to take SU to the next level. (Perhaps it could have been done six month earlier… or six years earlier… doesn’t really matter now). Either they have to disrupt themselves or will be disrupted.

    Talking about the latter… in your interview with Salim he said something like

    “…take 8 and 9 year olds and create a program for that education group, that age group and go right to the source of the problem, the kids, who are the ones who are going to have to inherit the mess we are leaving behind us, the old generation.
    Give them this awareness [of exponential technologies] and they will naturally take this in a much more easier way because they live it already…”

    …and that’s what I aka Warmer Sun is working on…

  • Gordon Deans

    Bravo, Socrates, you have issued the challenge for Intellectual Integrity in our new Cyberverse. It can only result in a better future for our world.

    As a long-time follower of the Singularity in all of its flavours and forms, and particularly SU, I become more uneasy as each year passes by and it stills seems to be the same old world, only with a few new players – Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Uber, AirBNB, etc. I understand that exponential change will only become apparent in the last few years before it happens but I am starting to doubt if I will see it in my Lifetime.

    We need to teach and engage all of the public about the coming Singularity, Abundance and 6 Ds by demonstrating them with more real world changes like Google cars, Tesla cars and space, etc. beginning with world-wide open education.

    We need to ensure that everyone understands what they need to know to participate and thrive in the 21st century. This can only be achieved with massive, open education programs on the scale of Wikipedia using all forms of media on a neutral internet.

    Nikola, thank you for your courage and efforts in articulating the current cognitive dissonance between the Singularity message and the Singularity reality.

  • Dan Vasii

    Admirably put, Socrates!!! You framed so well the situation, all that I felt, but not so clear. And if they do not tell you what was wrong about your presentation of them, than maybe they themselves do not know!

  • Dan Vasii

    Charles Stross – Accelerando – has a lot of ideas about transforming the actual economic model of capitalism. It is an amazing and premonitory book whose value is yet to be appreciated.

  • Ilya

    I too had too heard Salim’s interview almost prior to this deconstruction.

    I only propose to hear the other side, counter with their perspective in response to Nikolai’s views. It’s only a fair game, when both people are in the boxing ring. Nikolai – is anyone from SU willing too come on to your show to discuss this further… not to defend themselves, but to have an open healthy discussion on the points you raised.

  • xvl260

    I don’t know that much about SU other than it’s a non-accredited university program for executives. If that impression is correct, then most of the problems Socrates points out are really problems. Executives go to SU to either pitch their ideas to investors or to network with other executives. In that sense, having a high barrier of entry makes sense, you would only get people who are in high enough position (to be able to afford this) and who are committed to the idea of the technological singularity (to be willing to pay for this) in these conferences. The MTP about reaching a billion people isn’t about reaching a billion people directly, but rather facilitate the development by allowing investors and inventors getting together and sharing ideas on technologies that can impact 1 billion people.

    My post might sound very negative, but it wasn’t meant to be an attack or critique on your video. I believe in the free sharing of all the video or any knowledge for free if the marginal cost of sharing it is free. I just think that SU is more or less built by leaders to find other future leader (candidates). The function of reaching the general masses (like me) should be left to TED or MOOCs.

  • marco alpini

    Impressive to see a man of principles at work. I don’t know
    about SU, but what you said about the exponential paradigm is inspiring. You
    have talked a lot about how important ethic is for you, and now you have proven
    it; Chapeau!

  • charles000

    Remarkably erudite effort to explain the current mutational status of SU, compared to its initial inception, which I was an observer of and (very) marginal participate in.
    In a way, I feel quite fortunate to have seen the embryo of what was to become SU, attended the first Singularity Summit at Stanford, even presented on a couple of occasions at SU in its primordial inception days.
    Is it surprising to see what has evolved henceforth? No.
    Is it disrupting the mythos of what was believed to be its initial mandate? Probably
    Is it becoming an unintended learning experience for those who were initially enamored of its proclaimed mandate and the mythos thereof? Yes

    That may be the most relevant “product” that SU has provided, and at no charge.

    One thing that has become excruciatingly apparent, not just in the example hybrid educational platform that SU has attempted to become, but throughout much of the so-called “higher education” industry, what might be termed as the emergent educational-industrial complex: the business of fostering educational access to the evolving existence matrices of the near future has morphed into a profit bearing venture, a harvesting of revenue streams from the potential creators of disruptive future tech, even before anything is ever created from those who have to support this revenue stream just to gain access to the process.

    The question I would posit would be, is this actually sustainable, or is this a sort of future tech disruptive Ponzi scheme?

  • Richard Haven

    “How can you sell exponential org if you are not one?”

    Male OBGYNs? Non-driving auto-workers? Non-dead undertakers? Non-pureed smoothie barristas?

    One need not be the product one is selling. I’m not sure if this is an Ecological fallacy or not, but it is surprising since the rest of the article is spot-on

  • Greg

    Get off SU’s d*ck, dawg.

  • As the Facebook entry did not exist any more, I post my thoughts here in the conversation about the Q & A session, mental models, and “future opportunity windows”:

    h/t Nikola bringing out the Q & A session. Even though on another MOOC at the moment I listened into the over 90 min (especially the first 15 min).

    It seem that what Peter Senge is writing in “The Fifth Discipline” in the mental models section is quite true, and opens a unique future opportunity window for #SingularityU,

    “But if mental models can impede learning – freezing companies and industries in outmoded practices – why can’t they also help to ACCELERATE learning? As it happens, several organizations, largely operating independently, have given serious attention to this question in recent years” (p. 178, 1990 paperback copy).

    Even though we, and organizations alike try to create something new once in a while that is totally different to the mainstream, we see often a falling back into old behaviors (I could witness this development when BMW created its latest plant in Leipzig, driven by a visionary plant manager, building on the concepts of a learning organization, working remotely and using the latest digital technology while in the process of establishing and scaling production).

    Another “great” example where scarcity mindset is driving behavior (and output, as well as learning and broader impact) is in large part the science community conferences. Scientists are eager to present their work. Conference organizers want to have paying attendees to cover the costs to bring over researchers, pay location, and provide a breathtaking event. They are the real drivers, even though the scientific committees seem to be most important part. We have heard over and over again in personal conversations on whether it wouldn’t be a good idea to share the knowledge from the conference rooms where publicly funded research in the most cases (especially in Europe) is presented, and should be seen and read outside the conference venue. There answer is mostly,

    “Attendees are paying the price to get knowledge first hand. They should follow the powerpoint slides, and not mess around on social media sharing what is presented. Nobody would come next year!”

    My best example to date, on how public sharing of knowledge (art masterpieces shared via social media) is the The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York with its new CDO, Sree Sreenivasan http://twitter.com/sree. Of course at first it scares a museum director that anybody from around the world can watch and share the masterpieces on the internet, instead of visiting the museum.

    HOWEVER, nothing beats the REAL THING! Seeing a Picasso in reality is different to just seeing the digital image.

    So why not flip the business model of SU around, or rather going back to where it initially started in 2008, http://www.ted.com/talks/ray_kurzweil_announces_singularity_university

  • Gordon Deans

    WOW!

    The most intelligent 3 hours of presentation and conversation that I have seen for months (particularly after the 3 sleepless days for Nikola).

    I originally saw the initial video when it was first posted and it echoed my many concerns and frustrations as a follower of SU and the apparent cognitive dissonance of its teachings.

    The preceding and following videos were even more important when watched in their proper sequence. Thank you, Nikola, for sharing. It makes your arguments even stronger. Hopefully, SU will evolve sooner than later, but I suspect that this impossible for such a classical capitalist organization.

    I will probably die of old age before the predicted exponential change actually takes off if we wait for SU’s incubations.

    Fortunately, The Singularity will be in your good (ethical) hands, Nikola / Socrates.

    P.S. I was proud to hear your compliments about Canada and being Canadian. We are usually overlooked on the world stage.

  • h/t Nikola opening the conversation.

    Here my (first) thoughts on it http://bluefuture2012.blogspot.de/2016/01/the-emperor-has-no-clothes-really.html

  • MajorCornwallace

    As usual your commentary is very thoughtful. You do a great job bringing reality to futurism. I’ve had the same concerns over a lot of stuff like this in recent years. Singularity University always came off as a complete gimmick to me. I’ve worked in actual academia and known some pretty incredible scientists… frankly MIT is doing much. much more socially progressive high-tech work than Singularity University. So much so they participate in Buckminster Fuller challenges.

    Anyway, thank you for your hard work. If I had more money I’d want to fund you myself!

  • MajorCornwallace

    I also wish Nikolai the best. I believe that the biggest thing in this case is that he has actually allied himself with the real world. SU is, in some sense, a mere shadow of what is going on in even public research currently. Technology is, as he says, an evolutionary process. SU as an organization is merely a trading card for a niche of rich people. Ultimately the world goes on without regard to such organizations and they’re ultimately forgotten.

  • MajorCornwallace

    Ironically Agile is kind of the fundamentals of modern development cycles today. This further strengthens Nikolai’s arguments about SU being vastly outdated.

  • MajorCornwallace

    I should also add that the “unbrief” answers you gave were much more interesting than any possible brief answer.

  • Henny van der Pluijm

    Thank God somebody took the time to write this. It needed to be said.

  • Marianne Singularity

    Has anyone else noticed that there are similarities between Trump University and Singularity University? Neither are ‘universities’, both use scarcity to sell abundance, in both, the core faculty are sycophants, terrified of pissing off the founder(s), and they both have founders with yuuuuge egos.

  • Tomfoolery

    Any updates on this Nikola?

  • Nope, and I have given up on waiting and moved on.

  • Tomfoolery

    Fair enough!

  • Christopher Bush

    I see I am late to the party, but I was on a mission today looking specifically for SU critique. I have a little different experience as I am not SU Alumni, but am on a mission to work with/leverage parts that I REALLY like about SU, and build new where we see (what we think) is a better path.
    I was a finalist in the SU Global Grand Challenges awards last year. This was my first up close and personal experience. We got to do the SciFi D.I. as well. There is no question, we all can find things we don’t like in anything. My work has been scouring the globe for groups that have done something in an exceptional way, then see how we can integrate that with a bunch of other exceptional components. Pieces of SU with pieces of the MIT Open Agriculture Initiative, with pieces Jim Collins, Patrick Lencioni, Michael Gerber, John Galt, Frederick Bastiat, Salim Ismail, Jason Clay (WWF) and Rich DeVos. We use parts of Abundance, Bold, and the Solution Revolution (Eggers and Macmillan) leveraged with TED and TEDx, and a little Birkman Method to create a campus where we bring ALL of agriculture and Agri-foods, together with ALL of technology to deliver solutions for Zero Waste Agriculture. Socrates, you might like this very, very much!
    I will be happy to comment again as I get a deeper look inside the organization. The co-founder of our organization is applying for the next GSP. I am not defending them, or arguing your points when I say that what they have undertaken is hard. I spent most of a week with a whole lot of people in SF and Mountain View. I would say that I got exactly what I expected. #AgInnovation

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