Whether you realize it or not, artificial intelligence (AI) is already everywhere—from the phone you text on to the car you drive. And despite fears of a future robot uprising, the future will likely bring more AI, not less.
To help keep the future safe for humanity, Elon Musk and a group of high-tech heavyweights have teamed up to launch a new research non-profit called OpenAI. OpenAI’s mission 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.”
Translation: Find ways to make artificial intelligence to work for humanity, not against it.
“AI systems today have impressive but narrow capabilities,” OpenAI’s introductory blog post explains. “It seems that we’ll keep whittling away at their constraints, and in the extreme case they will reach human performance on virtually every intellectual task.” 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 has backing from some big names other than Musk. Its staff includes a number of accomplished AI researchers who hail from places like Stanford University, UC Berkeley, and NYU. Behind the scenes, Musk and Y Combinator President Sam Altman serve as co-chairs. Famed computer scientist Alan Kay and venture capitalist Peter Thiel are also involved, as are tech giants Amazon Web Services and Infosys. OpenAI isn’t going to develop any products, though—it’s strictly focused on research.
Why this matters: Musk has a vested interest in the future of AI given the artificial intelligence systems built into Tesla’s automobiles. But he has also expressed concern about how artificial intelligence could be misused. Last summer, Musk, along with Stephen Hawking, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and AI researchers, penned a letter urging world leaders to ban autonomous weapons. The letter warned of a future arms race, and cautioned that inexpensive autonomous weapons could fall into the wrong hands and lead to all sorts of atrocities. In that sense, OpenAI is Musk putting his money where his mouth is.