A group of technologists including Elon Musk and Peter Thiel plus companies including Amazon Web Services and Infosys have committed $1 billion to a new initiative called OpenAI. According to CTO Greg Brockman and research director Ilya Sutskever, the goal of the nonprofit research organization is “…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.”
They write that originally AI researchers believed that by addressing certain narrow tasks (teaching AI to play chess, for example), they would discover general human-level intelligence algorithms. But hand-coding a new algorithm for each specific problem hasn’t yielded general results. An alternative, they write, lies in deep learning.
As research progresses, they write, “It’s hard to fathom how much human-level AI could benefit society, and it’s equally hard to imagine how much it could damage society if built or used incorrectly.” OpenAI, they say, will grow into an institution that can prioritize a good outcome.
The organization expects to spend only a fraction of the committed $1 billion over the next few years.
According to the Wall Street Journal, “…several funders of OpenAI have business interests in developing artificial intelligence. How OpenAI’s efforts would dovetail with their commercial priorities is not clear.”
Brockman and Sutskever write, “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.”
The Journal quotes Oren Etzioni, a founder of online search startups who now runs the non-profit Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, as saying, “I do have faith that the people [at OpenAI] will develop AI to benefit humanity. Let’s hope that I’m not being naïve. We benefit from a mix of for-profit and nonprofit models, but the focus on AI for the common good is obviously different from ‘enhancing shareholder value.’”
The announcement of OpenAI comes a month after Google open-sourced its TensorFlow scalable machine-learning system.