Billion-Dollar Non-Profit AI Research Lab to Open in San Francisco

Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, Reid Hoffman and others believe the world needs noncommercial AI research—and they’re hiring

2 min read
Elon Musk.
Elon Musk is one of the Silicon Valley luminaries who have together committed $1 billion to fund OpenAI, a nonprofit research lab
Photo: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg/Getty Images

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 jobs@openai.com.

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Will AI Steal Submarines’ Stealth?

Better detection will make the oceans transparent—and perhaps doom mutually assured destruction

11 min read
A photo of a submarine in the water under a partly cloudy sky.

The Virginia-class fast attack submarine USS Virginia cruises through the Mediterranean in 2010. Back then, it could effectively disappear just by diving.

U.S. Navy

Submarines are valued primarily for their ability to hide. The assurance that submarines would likely survive the first missile strike in a nuclear war and thus be able to respond by launching missiles in a second strike is key to the strategy of deterrence known as mutually assured destruction. Any new technology that might render the oceans effectively transparent, making it trivial to spot lurking submarines, could thus undermine the peace of the world. For nearly a century, naval engineers have striven to develop ever-faster, ever-quieter submarines. But they have worked just as hard at advancing a wide array of radar, sonar, and other technologies designed to detect, target, and eliminate enemy submarines.

The balance seemed to turn with the emergence of nuclear-powered submarines in the early 1960s. In a 2015 study for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment, Bryan Clark, a naval specialist now at the Hudson Institute, noted that the ability of these boats to remain submerged for long periods of time made them “nearly impossible to find with radar and active sonar.” But even these stealthy submarines produce subtle, very-low-frequency noises that can be picked up from far away by networks of acoustic hydrophone arrays mounted to the seafloor.

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