Musk-Backed Group Probes Risks Behind Artificial Intelligence

Tesla Motors Inc. Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk
Tesla Motors Inc. Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk. Photographer: David Calvert/Bloomberg

Tesla Motors Inc. Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk has turned his worries about the rise of artificial intelligence into an international research program.

The Musk-backed Future of Life Institute said Wednesday it awarded about $7 million to teams around the world to look at the risks and opportunities posed by the development of AI. The grants were funded by part of Musk’s $10 million donation to the group in January and $1.2 million from the Open Philanthropy Project.

“There is this race going on between the growing power of the technology and the growing wisdom with which we manage it,” Max Tegmark, president of the Boston-based institute, said in an interview. “So far all the investments have been about making the systems more intelligent, this is the first time there’s been an investment in the other.”

More than 300 groups applied for the grants given to 37 research projects. Winners included groups from Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Stanford University near Palo Alto, California, and a new AI center at Oxford-Cambridge universities in the U.K., the institute said. Many of the projects focus on better modeling of the decision-making processes that go on within the brains of AI systems, and have titles like: Understanding When A Deep Network Is Going To Be Wrong, and How to Build Ethics into Robust Artificial Intelligence.

Musk, Stephen Hawking and other public intellectuals are concerned that AI systems are developing faster than a regulatory framework to ensure they don’t wipe out the human race.

Risks to Humans

“With artificial intelligence, we are summoning the demon,” Musk, also CEO of Space Exploration Technologies Corp., said in October.

The research should help provide a clearer idea of how humans and artificial intelligence can work together, such as outlining the ways a financial AI program can explain its suggestion for an innovative investment strategy, Tegmark said.

“This week ‘Terminator Genisys’ is coming out and that’s such a great reminder of what we should not worry about,” Tegmark said.

The funds will begin to be paid this August and will be gradually dispersed over three years. As the projects produce research, Tegmark hopes to garner other sources of funding to create a follow-up program.