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January 11, 2017updated 13 Jan 2017 12:07pm

Artificial intelligence to learn religion, morality & ethics from new tech fund

LinkedIn & eBay founder are among a group of investors backing an ethical AI fund.

By James Nunns

To further the ethics and accountability of artificial intelligence, a group of investors is throwing $27m at bringing in non-engineers and those that have studied data science into machine learning.

The likes of Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar are amongst a group of investors putting money into the Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Fund, which is being overseen by the MIT Media Lab and the Berkman Klein Centre for Internet and Society at Harvard University.

Basically, the idea is to apply the humanities, social sciences, and other non-tech disciplines to the development of AI.

AI is already making waves throughout the world, from its integration into every smartphone, to the Facebook founder creating his own ‘Jarvis’ in his home. While this is very much the tip of the iceberg, the noise being made by some of the largest tech companies in the world points to AI becoming a much more significant part of our daily lives.

Given the warnings, from the likes of Stephen Hawking, about the potential threat that AI could pose, government bodies and tech ‘councils’ have started to make a more concerted effort to see what impact the technology could have.

In the US the government published three official reports about the potential disruption that AI could cause, while the UK government is launching an ethics board, which will be based at the Alan Turing Institute.


Warnings about AI have left some picturing a Terminator like future. Image: Orion Pictures

The Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence fund aims to try and tackle this by including a broad range of voices, from social scientists, leaders of religion, lawyers, policymakers, ethicists and philosophers.

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Both Hoffman and Omidyar have committed $10 each to the fund, while the Knight Foundation, which invests in areas such as journalism, the arts in order to “foster informed and engaged communities,” say’s the company’s site.

Alberto Ibargüen, president of Knight Foundation, said: “Artificial intelligence agents will impact our lives in every society on Earth. Technology and commerce will see to that.

“Since even algorithms have parents and those parents have values that they instill in their algorithmic progeny, we want to influence the outcome by ensuring ethical behavior, and governance that includes the interests of the diverse communities that will be affected.”

Among the issues that the fund might address are topics such as; how do we best communicate the nuances of a complex field like AI and how can technologies be built that consider both ethical frameworks and moral values as central features of technological innovation?

Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn and partner at venture capital firm Greylock Partners, “There’s an urgency to ensure that AI benefits society and minimizes harm.

“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.”

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