Musk, others commit $1 billion to non-profit AI research company to ‘benefit humanity’

Open-sourcing AI development to prevent an AI superpower takeover
December 11, 2015

(credit: OpenAI)

Elon Musk and associates announced OpenAI, a non-profit AI research company, on Friday (Dec. 11), committing $1 billion toward their goal to “advance digital intelligence in the way that is most likely to benefit humanity as a whole, unconstrained by a need to generate financial return.”

The funding comes from a group of tech leaders including Musk, Reid Hoffman, Peter Thiel, and Amazon Web Services, but the venture expects to only spend “a tiny fraction of this in the next few years.”

The founders note that it’s hard to predict how much AI could “damage society if built or used incorrectly” or how soon. But the hope is to have a leading research institution that can “prioritize a good outcome for all over its own self-interest … as broadly and evenly distributed as possible.”

Brains trust

OpenAI’s co-chairs are Musk, who is also the principal funder of Future of Life Institute, and Sam Altman, president of  venture-capital seed-accelerator firm Y Combinator, who is also providing funding.

I think the best defense against the misuse of AI is to empower as many people as possible to have AI. If everyone has AI powers, then there’s not any one person or a small set of individuals who can have AI superpower.” — Elon Musk on Medium

The founders say the organization’s patents (if any) “will be shared with the world. We’ll freely collaborate with others across many institutions and expect to work with companies to research and deploy new technologies.”

OpenAI’s research director is machine learning expert Ilya Sutskever, formerly at Google, and its CTO is Greg Brockman, formerly the CTO of Stripe. The group’s other founding members are “world-class research engineers and scientists” Trevor Blackwell, Vicki Cheung, Andrej Karpathy, Durk Kingma, John Schulman, Pamela Vagata, and Wojciech Zaremba. Pieter Abbeel, Yoshua Bengio, Alan Kay, Sergey Levine, and Vishal Sikka are advisors to the group. The company will be based in San Francisco.

If I’m Dr. Evil and I use it, won’t you be empowering me?

“There are a few different thoughts about this. Just like humans protect against Dr. Evil by the fact that most humans are good, and the collective force of humanity can contain the bad elements, we think its far more likely that many, many AIs will work to stop the occasional bad actors than the idea that there is a single AI a billion times more powerful than anything else. If that one thing goes off the rails or if Dr. Evil gets that one thing and there is nothing to counteract it, then we’re really in a bad place.” — Sam Altman in an interview with Steven Levy on Medium.

The announcement follows recent announcements by Facebook to open-source the hardware design of its GPU-based “Big Sur” AI server (used for large-scale machine learning software to identify objects in photos and understand natural language, for example); by Google to open-source its TensorFlow machine-learning software; and by Toyota Corporation to invest $1 billion in a five-year private research effort in artificial intelligence and robotics technologies, jointly with Stanford University and MIT.

To follow OpenAI: @open_ai or