LinkedIn's Reid Hoffman, Omidyar Network back fund to study AI's societal impact

The $27M fund is the latest major effort to grapple with the profound implications of the development of artificial intelligence.

LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and the Omidyar Network are investing in the latest major effort to grapple with the profound implications of the development of artificial intelligence.

The new initiative, called the Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Fund, launches with $27 million in funding. It will fund efforts to apply the humanities, social sciences and other disciplines to the development of AI.

Hoffman and the Omidyar Network are contributing $10 million each, and the Knight Foundation is contributing $5 million. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and Jim Pallotta, founder of the Raptor Group, have each committed $1 million. The MIT Media Lab and the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard will serve as founding academic institutions for the initiative.

"There's an urgency to ensure that AI benefits society and minimizes harm," Hoffman said in a statement. "AI decision-making can influence many aspects of our world - education, transportation, health care, criminal justice, and the economy - yet data and code behind those decisions can be largely invisible."

The fund will attempt to include a diverse set of voices in its projects and dicussions, which could focus on issues such as building accountable and fair AI or ensuring the public stays informed about its development.

The fund says it will leverage the work of existing programs exploring the impact of AI and pursue joint efforts. Along with programs already underway at the MIT Media Lab, there are several organizations now broaching the ethical questions arising with autonomous systems.

Carnegie Mellon University recently announced it's establishing a new research center focused the ethics of AI. Additionally, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, and IBM recently formed a not-for-profit organization to educate the public and open up dialogue about AI. Last month, the IEEE published the first draft of an extensive document exploring a range of ethical challenges posed by AI.

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