The marquee TED conference kicks off this Sunday in Vancouver, with more than 1,000 power brokers gathering to toss around world-shaking ideas. But among the futurists and physicists and artists, the sold-out event will also function as a reunion of sorts for the late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein’s web of connections.
According to a private app that lists the conference’s attendees and speakers, a portion of which was revealed to The Daily Beast, those with alleged ties to Epstein include Bill Gates, former MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito (listed as a remote attendee), Elon Musk, Google founder Sergey Brin, computer scientist Danny Hillis, and former Gates adviser Boris Nikolic, who was named as a backup executor in Epstein’s last will and testament.
The breadth of connections demonstrates just how much influence Epstein was able to cultivate in the years before he was found dead in a Manhattan jail cell in 2019.
Each person had a different level of proximity to Epstein. Gates, for instance, met with the disgraced financier numerous times, as The Daily Beast has previously reported. Hillis, meanwhile, got to know Epstein in the years before his 2008 guilty plea; the pair used to gab about currency trading. “He has something a physicist would call physical intuition,” Hillis told New York magazine of Epstein’s investing prowess in 2002. That year, Epstein’s accomplice Ghislaine Maxwell sent packages via FedEx to a number of people including Hillis, according to testimony at the British socialite’s criminal trial in December 2021.
The scientist also met with him as recently as 2015, according to a 2020 report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Epstein’s ties and donations to the school.
Epstein himself attended the TED conference over the years, including in 2002 and 2011, and at least tried to mingle with attendees in 2013. In the early 2000s, TED coincided with the Edge Foundation’s ultra-exclusive “billionaires’ dinners,” run by literary agent John Brockman, which Epstein and his inner circle attended. “TED was hard to get into, yet Jeffrey could show up with 11 people and they would all get passes,” one former regular at the conference told The Daily Beast, adding that the multimillionaire once brought an entourage that included young women, with his assistant Sarah Kellen and former model Kelly Bovino among them.
Indeed, some acquaintances of Epstein claim they met him at TED. When Nathan Myhrvold, former chief technology officer at Microsoft, was asked about his association with Epstein in 2019, his spokesperson told Vanity Fair: “Back in the day Epstein was a regular at TED conferences and he was a large donor to basic scientific research, so while Nathan knew him and has socialized with him, that’s exactly where their association ends.”
The MIT report also stated that Linda Stone—a longtime associate of Epstein, former Microsoft executive, and member of the MIT Media Lab’s Advisory Council—introduced the financier to Ito at TED in February 2013. The document added, however, that “several witnesses” claimed “Epstein was barred by the conference organizers from attending the TED Conferences; and so Epstein instead met people in the hallways or in a hotel lobby.”
The individuals mentioned in this story did not respond to emails about whether they would attend this year’s conference, save for Hillis, who confirmed he would be there.
The event remains highly exclusive. A membership at TED (assuming one’s application is accepted) starts at $5,000. A $250,000 option includes five years of membership, special concierge services, and extra opportunities to mingle with speakers.
This year’s five-day event kicks off with appearances from the likes of Gary Kasparov, Pulitzer winner Alison Killing, and Olympian Allyson Felix, and concludes with a “farewell picnic.”
The conference is unlikely to highlight the controversial associations of some of its members.
Bill Gates is listed as a speaker on the TED 2022 website, though he is not included in the conference’s published schedule. (TED did not respond to an email seeking clarification.) The billionaire previously spoke at TED in 2015 about the potential risks of a global pandemic.
Gates’ Epstein links are now well documented. They reportedly met for the first time at the financier’s New York City townhouse, three years after Epstein had pleaded guilty to soliciting prostitution from a minor.
The pair stayed in touch; Gates even hitched a ride to Florida on Epstein’s private jet in 2013, as The New York Times reported in 2019. (His spokesperson insisted that he didn’t know Epstein owned the plane.)
Sources previously told The Daily Beast that Gates enjoyed holding court at Epstein’s Manhattan lair, which he allegedly saw as an escape from his “toxic” marriage. The high-powered philanthropist also hoped that the wealthy sex offender could help him obtain the Nobel Peace Prize, according to former Gates Foundation staff.
Gates’ ex-wife, Melinda, said in a televised interview last month that his meetings with Epstein were partly to blame for the demise of their marriage. She claimed she met Epstein “exactly once” and immediately determined that he was “abhorrent.”
Nikolic, a former adviser to Gates, also spent time with Epstein and reportedly acted as an intermediary between the two men. The biotech venture capitalist met Epstein through Melanie Walker, a neuroscientist who worked at the Gates Foundation starting in 2006.
The Times published a photo of Nikolic at Epstein’s New York mansion in 2011. He posed for the photo alongside Gates, then-JPMorgan executive Jes Staley, and former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers.
Days before Epstein died in 2019, he signed a last will and testament that named Nikolic as a backup executor to his roughly $600 million estate. Nikolic declined to take on the position and said he was “shocked” to learn he was named in the document.
“I was not consulted in these matters and I have no intent to fulfill these duties, whatsoever,” Nikolic said in a statement.
Musk, for his part, met Epstein at a dinner event several years ago organized by LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman. He acknowledged to Vanity Fair that he went to Epstein’s house for about half an hour, but said he did so at the urging of his ex-wife, who “was curious about meeting this strange person for a novel she was writing.”
Another report in Insider suggested that Epstein set up Musk’s brother with a woman in an attempt to gain closer access to the billionaire. That report also alleged that Epstein had received a private tour at Musk’s rocket company, SpaceX, a claim Musk denied.
Musk also reportedly attended a dinner event with Epstein in California in 2011, alongside Sergey Brin and other tech luminaries. No surprise: they had assembled for a TED conference.
As for Ito, the entrepreneur resigned from MIT’s Media Lab in the fall of 2019, when Epstein’s donations and access to prestigious universities were under increased scrutiny. (Ito wasn’t the only MIT researcher to enjoy Epstein’s largesse. The late computer scientist Marvin Minsky received at least $100,000 from Epstein for research, and professor Seth Lloyd, who visited Epstein while he was on work release in Florida in 2008, snagged at least $225,000.)
Ito cultivated Epstein as a Media Lab donor after meeting him at TED in 2013, and from that point through 2017, the financier made six donations totaling $525,000. Ito “held out hope that Epstein might make donations in the millions,” MIT’s report on Epstein states.
In 2018, Ito tried unsuccessfully to get $1.5 million from Epstein to fund research by Media Lab scientist Caleb Harper, who created a “personal food computer” but which apparently didn’t function as advertised. Harper gave a TED talk about his device in 2015, and video of the event has since been removed from TED’s website.
Ito attended meetings with Epstein, one of which included actor Woody Allen, and visited several of his homes. Epstein would bankroll two of Ito’s personal ventures, too, providing $250,000 for a company formed to commercialize technology created at the school and dropping $1 million into a $9-million private investment fund run by Ito.
MIT’s report indicated that Ito claimed Epstein’s “investments were being held in ‘escrow’ and that he was attempting to ‘eject’ Epstein’s money from those ventures.”
The sex predator also claimed in 2014 to arrange anonymous million-dollar donations to MIT from his billionaire friends: Gates and hedge-funder Leon Black. Gates denied ever donating money at Epstein’s request, while Black hasn’t commented on the allegation.
Days after Epstein’s jailhouse suicide in August 2019, Ito published a mea culpa on MIT’s website. “I met Epstein in 2013 at a conference through a trusted business friend and, in my fundraising efforts for MIT Media Lab, I invited him to the Lab and visited several of his residences,” Ito said in the statement. “I want you to know that in all of my interactions with Epstein, I was never involved in, never heard him talk about, and never saw any evidence of the horrific acts that he was accused of.”
Prior to resigning from his post, Ito also vowed to “raise an amount equivalent” to Epstein’s donations that he said he would give to charities supporting survivors of trafficking. The Daily Beast could not immediately confirm if he followed through.
Ito is now an adviser at the Center of Complex Interventions, which is funded by a company Ito co-founded, the Reid Hoffman Foundation, and the Sergey Brin Family Foundation. Hoffman has also apologized for funneling Epstein’s money to MIT.
Still, Ito may face trouble making a comeback. When the @TEDpartners Twitter account shared a post tagging him in January, users began to take swipes at the scholar’s Epstein donations. “Ditch the pedo money laundering criminal or expect a total boycott,” one person replied. Another observer fumed, “um... why you promoting people associated with Epstein? Is that the future everyone wants?”
And in a sign that TED understands the bad optics, the Twitter post was subsequently removed.