Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, tweeted an announcement earlier today, revealing OpenAI, an open-source, non-profit company dedicated to developing human level artificial intelligence.

A few days ago I had a long conversation with a friend, musing on the precarious position humankind finds itself in today. We've reached a point of technological capability where we have the power to improve the lives of every single person on the planet, and yet we are still mired in conflict, hatred, and greed. Humans with great power hoard wealth and resources beyond any logical reason, and in doing so allow children to starve.

In our ceaseless quest for more power and more wealth, we are destroying the planet that we live on. Upon harnessing the energy that powers stars, we used it to build bombs. And in the midst of all of this, we are mesmerized by media and politicians who seek to further divide and control us, to further their own power.

Towards the end of this conversation, I brought up the point that perhaps we've seen the logical limits of democracy. Despite our nearly limitless access to information, the power of propaganda and media brainwashing has become such that vast numbers of people are manipulated into voting against their own self interest, and against the interests of future generations. And the ones doing the manipulation, the ones holding terrifying power over the mass of human civilization, are sociopaths without empathy or remorse, who will stop at nothing to grow their own power - even it means making our planet uninhabitable.

I don't have a solution to this problem, but maybe we are past the point where humans can be trusted to govern other humans. I said "I hope some really smart people are working together right now to create truly conscious artificial intelligence, so that maybe some day we can be governed and guided by an intelligence that doesn't feel fear or greed, doesn't hate, and isn't motivated by self interest."

Now it seems that there is in fact a group of brilliant people working to create human level or greater AI. Though OpenAI makes no claims about creating a benevolent AI to govern humanity, they state a clear purpose to develop artificial intelligence to serve the betterment of all humanity. The opening statement on their introduction webpage reads:

OpenAI is a non-profit artificial intelligence research company. Our goal is to advance digital intelligence in the way that is most likely to benefit humanity as a whole, unconstrained by a need to generate financial return.

And the commitment to this end continues towards the conclusion of their introduction:

Because of AI's surprising history, it's hard to predict when human-level AI might come within reach. When it does, it'll be important to have a leading research institution which can prioritize a good outcome for all over its own self-interest.

We're hoping to grow OpenAI into such an institution. As a non-profit, our aim is to build value for everyone rather than shareholders. Researchers will be strongly encouraged to publish their work, whether as papers, blog posts, or code, and our patents (if any) will be shared with the world. We'll freely collaborate with others across many institutions and expect to work with companies to research and deploy new technologies.

With a billion dollars in funding to start out, and an incredible list of scientists and research engineers working on the project, these lofty goals don't seem unreasonable.

Head over to the OpenAI page to check it out.

Image: Yale Scientific

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Chris Cox

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