Today, a group of Silicon Valley luminaries and companies announced that they have committed US$1 billion to an organization they’ve named OpenAI. This nonprofit is dedicated to advancing “digital intelligence in the way that is most likely to benefit humanity as a whole, unconstrained by a need to generate financial return.”
Behind the effort are Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX; Peter Thiel, cofounder of Palantir; Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn; Sam Altman, co-founder of Loopt and president of Y Combinator; Greg Brockman, former CTO and fourth employee of Stripe; and Jessica Livingston, a founding partner of Y Combinator; along with the companies Amazon Web Services, Infosys, and YC Research. Musk, Thiel, and Hoffman are part of the so-called Paypal Mafia, the group of Paypal founders and early employees who went on to found an inordinately large number of other successful companies. Musk has repeatedly expressed concerns about the dangers of AI, and earlier this year announced funding for projects designed to keep the dangers at a minimum.
Brockman is OpenAI’s CTO, Musk and Altman are co-chairs, and Ilya Sutskever, a machine learning expert coming out of Google, is research director.
In a letter posted on its website, the investors explained that “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.” And, they said, they believe it is important to have a nonprofit research organization involved because “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.”
Seven researchers have already been hired, according to the New York Times, and the organization has plans to bring more on board. Says OpenAI on its website, “We’re hiring research engineers and scientists. We’re looking for people who have excelled as part of a research group or technical team previously, but we’re flexible on the details—great research comes from mixing a variety of backgrounds and viewpoints.”
Candidates are encouraged to contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.