Getting Out in Front of the Mad Scientists

Cade Metz at Wired reports that investors Elon Musk and Sam Altman are setting up a billion-dollar nonprofit to “maximize the power of AI—and then share it with anyone who wants it”:

At least, this is the message that Musk, the founder of electric car company Tesla Motors, and Altman, the president of startup incubator Y Combinator, delivered in announcing their new endeavor, an unprecedented outfit called OpenAI. In an interview with Steven Levy of Backchannel, timed to the company’s launch, Altman said they expect this decades-long project to surpass human intelligence. But they believe that any risks will be mitigated because the technology will be “usable by everyone instead of usable by, say, just Google.”

Naturally, Levy asked whether their plan to freely share this technology would actually empower bad actors, if they would end up giving state-of-the-art AI to the Dr. Evils of the world. But they played down this risk. They feel that the power of the many will outweigh the power of the few. “Just like humans protect against Dr. Evil by the fact that most humans are good, and the collective force of humanity can contain the bad elements,” said Altman, “we think its far more likely that many, many AIs, will work to stop the occasional bad actors.”

OpenAI’s chances of saving the world from mad data scientists are hard to predict, but it could certainly shake up the high-tech sector:

If OpenAI stays true to its mission of giving everyone access to new ideas, it will at least serve as a check on powerful companies like Google and Facebook. With Musk, Altman, and others pumping more than a billion dollars into the venture, OpenAI is showing how the very notion of competition has changed in recent years. Increasingly, companies and entrepreneurs and investors are hoping to compete with rivals by giving away their technologies. Talk about counterintuitive.