Carnegie Mellon to open research center focused on AI ethics

The university, which has ties to Google, Uber and other major tech firms, is receiving a $10 million endowment from global law firm.

Carnegie Mellon University announced Wednesday that it's receiving a $10 million endowment from global law firm K&L Gates LLP to establish a new research center focused on the ethics of artificial intelligence.

The K&L Gates Endowment for Ethics and Computational Technologies will support a senior professor and a junior professor, both in ethics and computational technologies. The endowment will also support three doctoral students whose studies relate to the field of ethics and computational science and technology. It will also be used to endow two funds for undergraduate students and to host a biennial conference on the subject.

The new endowment comes at a time when the tech community is starting to grapple with the impact that emerging technologies could have on society. Tech heavyweights Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and IBM recently formed a not-for-profit organization to educate the public and open up dialogue about AI. The IEEE also recently launched an initiative to examine ethical considerations in the design of autonomous systems.

And while lawmakers are typically behind the curve when it comes to technological advances, the Obama administration recently released a report on the future of AI, putting a strong emphasis on ethics.

In a statement, Carnegie Mellon President Subra Suresh said that it's not just technology that will shape the next century. "Our future will also be influenced strongly by how humans interact with technology, how we foresee and respond to the unintended consequences of our work, and how we ensure that technology is used to benefit humanity, individually and as a society," he said.

Suresh added that Carnegie Mellon is "uniquely positioned" to examine these questions given its history and current leadership in areas including AI, brain science, cybersecurity and robotics, among others. Indeed, the university's history in AI research goes back to the 1950s, when Allen Newell and Herbert A. Simon conducted pioneering work in in the fields of AI and cognitive science.

More recently, the university's high-profile robotics work includes a partnership with Uber to develop autonomous vehicle technology, while it's also worked with Google to advance computer vision. Just last month, Carnegie Mellon Professor Russ Salakhutdinov said he was joining Apple to lead an AI research team.

The main takeaways

​Obama's report on the future of artificial intelligence

We read the Obama Administration's report on artificial intelligence in full. Here are the main themes to ponder.

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