Tech Giants Have Raised $27M To Build More Ethical AI

By Janet Burns
January 17, 2017

According to the Wall Street Journal, artificial intelligence spending is geared up for a major boom, and some of Silicon Valley's wealthiest are investing big to ensure AI's road ahead is not just safe but ethically sound. 

The Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Fund aims to support global efforts to "[advance] the development of ethical AI in the public interest," and specifically in areas of education and applied research. Kicked off by tech heavyweights and other philanthropists, the fund has raised $27 million to date but is looking to grow, and has already partnered with researchers at Harvard University's Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society the MIT Media Lab, two of the nation's top institutions for the study of AI.

Fundraising for the project was led by the Omidyar Network (created by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar), LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Raptor Group's Jim Pallotta. The fund's work will likely also draw interest from supporters of OpenAI, a nonprofit artifical-intelligence research and security group founded by Elon Musk and Y Combinator-founder Sam Altman, and of which Hoffman is already a patron.

In the past several years, innovations in artificial intelligence have offered a wealth of new applications and potential opportunities for the technology, from healthcare to home use, but also to questions about its unprecedented effects. As PC World pointed out, "While those developments have led to cool new features, they’ve also presented a host of potential problems, like automation displacing human jobs, and algorithms providing biased results."

Such questions, ranging from AI's massive economic impact to the need for robotic legal representation and/or kill-switches, are precisely within the purview of the new fund.  “Artificial intelligence agents will impact our lives in every society on Earth. Technology and commerce will see to that,” said Alberto Ibargüen, president of the Knight Foundation, in press release. He continued,

Since even algorithms have parents and those parents have values that they instill in their algorithmic progeny, we want to influence the outcome by ensuring ethical behavior, and governance that includes the interests of the diverse communities that will be affected.

Whether or not one donates, of course, the existence of privately funded organizations seeking to make AI safe and ethical doesn't let the rest of us off the hook. The Knight Foundation stresses, "[The] development of AI must be a joint, human endeavor, bridging computer scientists, engineers, social scientists, ethicists, philosophers, faith leaders, economists, lawyers and policymakers."

After all, staying vigilant and voicing one's views on the rapid expansion of artificial intelligence sure beats waiting around for the long-term results--even with a cute learning robot for company.

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