Oxford University Gets £150m Investment For AI Ethics

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University’s largest ever donation from American billionaire will fund research into AI ethics

An American billionaire has given a massive sum of money to Oxford University, which will be used to fund research into the ethical use of artificial intelligence (AI).

Oxford University announced that the “transformational investment” of £150 million will be used to create the Schwarzman Centre, and marks the largest single donation to the University since the Renaissance.

It comes after governments and other tech figures have previously invested money into the ethical use of AI, but nothing on the scale of this investment from Stephen Schwarzman, a multi billionaire and CEO of Blackstone private equity group.

AI investment

AI has long been a worry for some people. This time last year the House of Lords said that the UK was in a “unique position” to help shape the development of AI, to ensure the tech is only applied for the benefit of mankind.

And it seems that Schwarzman agrees, after Oxford University announced its colossal AI investment.

“At the heart of the endeavour will be the new Stephen A. Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities, made possible by a £150 million landmark gift from Mr Schwarzman, philanthropist and Chairman, CEO and Co-founder of Blackstone, the world’s largest alternative investment firm,” said the university.

“The Schwarzman Centre will serve as a dynamic hub dedicated to the Humanities – those fields which inform our understanding and appreciation of the human experience,” it said. “The Schwarzman Centre will be home to Oxford’s new Institute for Ethics in AI, which will build upon the University’s world-class capabilities in the Humanities to lead the study of the ethical implications of artificial intelligence and other new computing technologies.”

“This generous donation from Stephen A. Schwarzman marks a significant endorsement of the value of the Humanities in the 21st century and in Oxford University as the world leader in the field,” said Professor Louise Richardson, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford.

“The new Schwarzman Centre will open a vibrant cultural programme to the public and will enable Oxford to remain at the forefront of both research and teaching while demonstrating the critical role the Humanities will play in helping human society navigate the technological changes of the 21st century,” said Richardson.

The university even compiled the following video, found here.

Active philanthropist

Schwarzman is no stranger to making large investments. In 2015 for example he donated $150 million to Yale University.

He has also gifted $50 million to the Inner-City Scholarship Fund in New York, which provides tuition assistance to underprivileged children.

“I’m proud to partner with Oxford to establish the Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities which will unite Oxford’s Humanities faculties for the first time, include a new Institute for Ethics in AI to explore crucial questions affecting the workplace and society, and in addition offer modern performing arts facilities that will deepen Oxford’s engagement with the public,” said Schwarzman.

“For nearly 1,000 years, the study of the Humanities at Oxford has been core to western civilisation and scholarship,” he said. “We need to ensure that its insights and principles can be adapted to today’s dynamic world. Oxford’s longstanding global leadership in the Humanities uniquely positions it to achieve this important objective.”

AI fears

The impact of Artificial Intelligence has long troubled some experts, despite its promise to transform most aspects of our lives.

And it should be remembered that some at Oxford University have previously warned about AI.

A few years ago, Professor Nick Bostrom, director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University, highlighted the need for AIs to be carefully created in such a way that they do what humanity wants them to even as they grow ever more intelligent.

Other experts agreed, including the late Stephen Hawking, who had warned of the dangers the technology could present.

AI is also a concern for the likes of Elon Musk and Bill Gates. And in the commercial world, AI has also causes problems.

In March this year Google created the ‘Advanced Technology External Advisory Council (ATEAC)’, to offer guidance on the ethical use of AI.

But just a week later Google announced it was “ending the council”, apparently due to staff concerns at the inclusion of two female members in the council.

Into this the British government in March this year ordered an independent watchdog to conduct an investigation to explore the potential for bias with algorithmic decision-making or artificial intelligence (AI) in criminal and justice cases.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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