New Research Outfit Seeks ‘Positive’ AI And No Profit

OpenAI introduced itself to the world on Friday with a modest blog post and some serious investors.  With a reported $1 billion in private funding from several technology innovators – including co-chairs Elon Musk (Tesla, SpaceX) and Sam Altman (Y Combinator) – OpenAI will try to add a different perspective to the funding environment in artificial intelligence (AI) funding through its non-profit status.  Most of the new money entering artificial intelligence research is coming from for-profit companies, OpenAI is concerned that the profit motive may not be as effective in advancing the technology as an organization seeking to distribute its findings widely.

From the first blog post:

“Because of AI’s surprising history, it’s hard to predict when human-level AI might come within reach. When it does, it’ll be important to have a leading research institution which can prioritize a good outcome for all over its own self-interest.”

We’re hoping to grow OpenAI into such an institution. As a non-profit, our aim is to build value for everyone rather than shareholders. Researchers will be strongly encouraged to publish their work, whether as papers, blog posts, or code, and our 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.”

This implicit skepticism of existing artificial intelligence research – at least that research which is being conducted with private funds – likely explains the involvement of Elon Musk.  Back in January he was one of several signatories to a letter from the Future of Life Institute on research priorities on beneficial artificial intelligence research (OpenAI will operate separately from the institute).  Other signatories of that letter involved in OpenAI include its research director, Ilya Sutskever.  Musk has been concerned of the potential of AI to be used in ways that would not benefit the bulk of humanity, placing AI in the realm of existential threat.

OpenAI will start spending slowly, but specific details on that or the nature of its funding were not immediately forthcoming.  The organization is operating out of the San Francisco Bay area and has just a few employees at the moment.

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