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Elon Musk Backs $1 Billion Artificial Intelligence Research Group

Elon Musk and other technology giants have chipped in $1 billion toward researching artificial intelligence to “benefit humanity,”

The 44-year-old Tesla and SpaceX CEO announced on Friday that he has helped fund a new nonprofit called OpenAI, which will be devoted to creating intelligent machines or software.

“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,”

Inside OpenAI, Elon Musk's Wild Plan to Set Artificial Intelligence Free

The Friday afternoon news dump, a grand tradition observed by politicians and capitalists alike, is usually supposed to hide bad news.

So it was a little weird that Elon Musk, founder of electric car maker Tesla, and Sam Altman, president of famed tech incubator Y Combinator, unveiled their new artificial intelligence company at the tail end of a weeklong AI conference in Montreal this past December.

When some of Silicon Valley's most powerful companies caught wind of the project, they began offering tremendous amounts of money to OpenAI's freshly assembled cadre of artificial intelligence researchers, intent on keeping these big thinkers for themselves.

Two years ago, as the market for the latest machine learning technology really started to heat up, Microsoft Research vice president Peter Lee said that the cost of a top AI researcher had eclipsed the cost of a top quarterback prospect in the National Football League—and he meant under regular circumstances, not when two of the most famous entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley were trying to poach your top talent.

But it offered something else: the chance to explore research aimed solely at the future instead of products and quarterly earnings, and to eventually share most—if not all—of this research with anyone who wants it.

That's right: Musk, Altman, and company aim to give away what may become the 21st century's most transformative technology—and give it away for free.

He felt like the money was at least as much of an effort to prevent the creation of OpenAI as a play to win his services, and it pushed him even further towards the startup's magnanimous mission.

That's the irony at the heart of this story: even as the world's biggest tech companies try to hold onto their researchers with the same fierceness that NFL teams try to hold onto their star quarterbacks, the researchers themselves just want to share.

In the rarefied world of AI research, the brightest minds aren't driven by—or at least not only by—the next product cycle or profit margin.

This morning, OpenAI will release its first batch of AI software, a toolkit for building artificially intelligent systems by way of a technology called "reinforcement learning"—one of the key technologies that, among other things, drove the creation of AlphaGo, the Google AI that shocked the world by mastering the ancient game of Go.

But the forces that drove the creation of this rather unusual startup show that the new breed of AI will not only remake technology, but remake the way we build technology.

Inside places like Google and Facebook, a technology called deep learning is already helping Internet services identify faces in photos, recognize commands spoken into smartphones, and respond to Internet search queries.

They’re not alone in their fear of robot overlords, but perhaps counterintuitively, Musk and Altman also think that the best way to battle malicious AI is not to restrict access to artificial intelligence but expand it.

OpenAI began one evening last summer in a private room at Silicon Valley's Rosewood Hotel—an upscale, urban, ranch-style hotel that sits, literally, at the center of the venture capital world along Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park, California.

Elon Musk was having dinner with Ilya Sutskever, who was then working on the Google Brain, the company's sweeping effort to build deep neural networks—artificially intelligent systems that can learn to perform tasks by analyzing massive amounts of digital data, including everything from recognizing photos to writing email messages to, well, carrying on a conversation.

Sam Altman, whose Y Combinator helped bootstrap companies like Airbnb, Dropbox, and Coinbase, had brokered the meeting, bringing together several AI researchers and a young but experienced company builder named Greg Brockman, previously the chief technology officer at high-profile Silicon Valley digital payments startup called Stripe, another Y Combinator company.

In an effort to break the cycle, Brockman picked the ten researchers he wanted the most and invited them to spend a Saturday getting wined, dined, and cajoled at a winery in Napa Valley.

It's only recently that companies like Google and Facebook and Microsoft have pushed into the field, as advances in raw computing power have made deep neural networks a reality, not just a theoretical possibility.

Brockman, Altman, and Musk aim to push the notion of openness further still, saying they don't want one or two large corporations controlling the future of artificial intelligence.

Nick Bostrom, the Oxford philosopher who, like Musk, has warned against the dangers of AI, points out that if you share research without restriction, bad actors could grab it before anyone has ensured that it's safe.

But as the philosopher explains in a new paper, the primary effect of an outfit like OpenAI—an outfit intent on freely sharing its work—is that it accelerates the progress of artificial intelligence, at least in the short term.

Brockman says OpenAI will begin by exploring reinforcement learning, a way for machines to learn tasks by repeating them over and over again and tracking which methods produce the best results.

If you want to teach a neural network to recognize cat photos, you must feed it a certain number of examples—and these examples must be labeled as cat photos.

Just as PARC's largely open and unfettered research gave rise to everything from the graphical user interface to the laser printer to object-oriented programing, Brockman and crew seek to delve even deeper into what we once considered science fiction.

OpenAI

OpenAI is a non-profit artificial intelligence (AI) research company that aims to promote and develop friendly AI in such a way as to benefit humanity as a whole.

Nevertheless, Sutskever stated that he was willing to leave Google for OpenAI “partly of because of the very strong group of people and, to a very large extent, because of its mission.” Brockman stated that “the best thing that I could imagine doing was moving humanity closer to building real AI in a safe way.” OpenAI researcher Wojciech Zaremba stated that he turned down “borderline crazy” offers of two to three times his market value to join OpenAI instead.[7]

and which sentiment has been expressed elsewhere in reference to a potentially enormous class of AI-enabled products: 'Are we really willing to let our society be infiltrated by autonomous software and hardware agents whose details of operation are known only to a select few?

We could sit on the sidelines or we can encourage regulatory oversight, or we could participate with the right structure with people who care deeply about developing AI in a way that is safe and is beneficial to humanity.” Musk acknowledged that “there is always some risk that in actually trying to advance (friendly) AI we may create the thing we are concerned about”;

During a 2016 conversation about the technological singularity, Altman said that “we don’t plan to release all of our source code” and mentioned a plan to “allow wide swaths of the world to elect representatives to a new governance board”.

Gym aims to provide an easy-to-setup general-intelligence benchmark with a wide variety of different environments - somewhat akin to, but broader than, the ImageNet Large Scale Visual Recognition Challenge used in supervised learning research - and that hopes to standardize the way in which environments are defined in AI research publications, so that published research becomes more easily reproducible.[8][24]

OpenAI Five is the name of a team of five OpenAI-curated bots that are used in the competitive five-on-five video game Dota 2, who learn to play against human players at a high skill level entirely through trial-and-error algorithms.

Before becoming a team of five, the first public demonstration occurred at The International 2017, the annual premiere championship tournament for the game, where Dendi, a professional Ukrainian player of the game, lost against a bot in a live 1v1 matchup.[31][32]

The system uses a form of reinforcement learning, as the bots learn over time by playing against themselves hundreds of times a day for months, and are rewarded for actions such as killing an enemy and destroying towers.[35][36][37]

Shape Created with Sketch. In pictures: Artificial intelligence through history

Mr Musk, who has donated huge amounts of money to research into the dangers of artificial intelligence, said that he hopes his prediction is true because otherwise it means the world will end.

“If you assume any rate of improvement at all, then the games will become indistinguishable from reality, just indistinguishable.” He said that even if the speed of those advancements dropped by 1000, we would still be moving forward at an intense speed relative to the age of life.

“Otherwise, if civilisation stops advancing, then that may be due to some calamitous event that stops civilisation.” He said that either we will make simulations that we can’t tell apart from the real world, “or civilisation will cease to exist”.

But it has been given a new and different edge in recent years with the development of powerful computers and artificial intelligence, which some have argued shows how easily such a simulation could be created.

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