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Why Universities And Billionaires Are Uniting To Keep AI In Check

Why Universities And Billionaires Are Uniting To Keep AI In Check

Stephen Schwarzman, billionaire and co-founder of Blackstone Group speaks on Bloomberg TV about donating $188 million to the University of Oxford (Simon Dawson/Bloomberg) © 2019 Bloomberg Finance LP

Tuesday’s announcement that Stephen Schwarzman , a US private equity billionaire, donated £150 million ($88 million) to Oxford University is the latest in a growing philanthropic movement to keep artificial intelligence (AI) in check.

The Stephen A Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities will incorporate a library, a concert hall, an auditorium and, most importantly, an Institute for Ethics in Artificial Intelligence.

“Technology can’t be allowed to just do whatever it wants because it can,” the CEO of Blackstone said in response to his donation. But he is not the only one concerned.

Pierre Omidyar , the founder of eBay, set up Luminate last year to advocate for civic empowerment, data and digital rights, financial transparency, and independent media.

The London based organization has pledged millions to monitor AI. “One of the things we’ve discovered is artificial intelligence is developed by programmers who are not concerned with the ethical consequences,” Stephen King, Luminate’s CEO, told Forbes in April. advocates for civic empowerment, data and digital rights, financial transparency, and independent media.

A lack of accountability surrounding AI means people can suffer the effects of racial bias, say, from facial recognition software or a lack of basic rights under the social credit scoring systems being rolled out in China. Then there are the fears of mass redundancies as AI starts to replace jobs in different industries.

But Omidyar and Schwarzman, as well as fellow funders such as LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and Romesh Wadhwani, are a minority in billionaire circles. While they look at AI with a dose of skepticism, others cannot put enough of their wealth into the nascent technology.

Tej Kohli’s Rewired, Masayoshi Son ‘s Vision Fund, and Pham Nhat Vuong ‘s VinGroup are just a handful of billionaire-backed funds pouring money into the development of AI around the world. And there are thousands more, their money flowing into private enterprises, which develop AI technologies far from the prying eyes of universities or even governments. So how can donations, like Schwarzman’s, make those developing AI more conscious of its effects in the world?

“We have the core of values and knowledge of western civilization in one place and we can use that knowledge to inform the dialogue going on globally by a small group of people who are developing this [AI] technology,” said Schwarzman in an interview.

“At the moment, most governments are utterly unprepared to deal with this, and why would they be, it’s a different type of technology.”

Philanthropy, however, can help bridge the divides between university and government, says Martin Tisné, managing director of Luminate. “We push universities to work on applied research. The private sector is developing the technology but we cannot rely on the private sector to self-regulate.

“Governments need the help of academics, NGOs and policy advocates.”

Other donations will be “coming fast and lose in this field” following Schwarzman’s donation, adds Tisné. Though this is positive, Tisné would like to see donations go towards more collaboration rather than more institutions. “There are enough institutions in the U.K. and the U.S.

“But let’s also go beyond that – there are far fewer institutions working on these issues across Europe. We need more in India, billionaire, China, etc.

“So I think there is something really exciting that the U.K. can do in bridging the gap between the U.K. and the global perspective.”

Billionaires and universities might be uniting to keep AI in check, but it is institutions that need to come together. “Its really important to be coherent”, says Tisné. “That comes from figuring out which organizations play which role.”

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