AI News, Schwarzman Says Oxford University Gift Will Help Shape Impact of AI artificial intelligence
More dirty money for Oxford University
According to a slick new website, it “will be a dynamic hub dedicated to the humanities.” The Centre will also eventually house Oxford’s new Institute for Ethics in AI, “which will build upon the University’s world-class capabilities in the humanities to lead the study of the ethical implications of artificial intelligence and other new computing technologies.” Schwarzman’s payment — I decline to call it a “donation” or “gift” — represents a significant transfer of wealth from some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world to an already vastly wealthy institution.
Yet not only does Schwarzman’s payment once again raise significant questions around the ethics of public institutions accepting the largess of self-serving billionaire philanthropy, it also raises broader questions about the future of education and in whose interests schools, colleges and universities are run.
No good billionaires The grim irony of building a centre for the study of ethics with money amassed through some of the most predatory and socially and ecologically damaging practices of modern capitalism is apparently lost on Oxford’s Vice Chancellor, Prof.
“Do you really think we should turn down the biggest gift in modern times, which will enable hundreds of academics, thousands of students to do cutting-edge work in the humanities?” Richardson asked in response to criticism of Blackstone’s business practices and Schwarzman’s connections to Donald Trump.
A 2016/17 survey by the Universities and Colleges Union found that 61.3% of teaching staff and 77% of all academic staff were on “insecure” (fixed-term or atypical) contracts, though due to the intricacies of Oxford’s collegiate system, the real figure is likely even higher.
These figures have improved marginally in the intervening years, and the University recently announced new plans to increase access, but it is clear that Oxford has little intention to use a significant share of its vast financial resources to drive the kind of radical changes that would be needed to really address its historic class biases and institutional racism.
In a piece by Hailey Fuchs on the lengthy negotiations between Yale and Schwarzman, then YDN reporter David Yaffe-Bellany recounted how it appeared that a team of university administrators were “running public relations interference for one of the wealthiest, most powerful men in the country.” Oxford would likely do the same, but the announcement of Schwarzman’s more recent payment is yet to be met with comparable opposition from faculty (fortuitously, perhaps, the announcement was made just as many people departed the city for the summer).
The response from many of my senior colleagues in the humanities, people who pride themselves on their razor-sharp critical faculties, seems to have been one of complacency, or just wilful ignorance — it appears many are content to take Schwarzman’s mawkish story about his teenage enchantment on visiting the university at face value.
I would suggest instead that it marks a significant attempt by a right-wing billionaire to gain further political influence, via a huge cash investment in an institution that, as the training ground for politicians, civil servants and economists, has long been at the heart of power in the UK.
The influence of the Koch brothers — close associates of Schwarzman’s — on higher education in the US provides a vivid example of how billionaires can bend institutions to their own political ends, in order both to embed profit-making within education provision and to shape what and how students study.
With the marketisation and neoliberalisation of higher education, UK universities increasingly resemble quasi-private corporations, with Vice Chancellors like Louise Richardson as their vastly overpaid CEOs, jetting around the world to negotiate payments from billionaires as their salaries grow ever more disproportionate to those of the university’s lowest paid workers.
As the recently launched Labour Against Private Schools campaign argues, abolishing private schools and redistributing their vast resources and wealth would provide generous funds for a truly comprehensive, non-selective school system.
Philanthropists should treat AI as an ethical not a technological challenge
The list of existential threats to mankind on which wealthy philanthropists have focused their attention —
Even if the machines are not going to kill us, there are plenty of reasons to worry AI will be used for ill as well as for good, and that advances in the field are coming faster than our ability to think through the consequences.
Between facial recognition and autonomous drones, AI’s potential impact on warfare is already obvious, stirring employee concern at Google and other pioneers in the field.
Other fears include whether AI algorithms are reinforcing racial stereotypes, gender biases and other prejudices as a result of a lack of diversity among scientists in the field —
Explaining his gift of $150m to Oxford university, part of which will go to creating an Institute for Ethics in AI, Steve Schwarzman, founder of private equity house Blackstone, told Forbes in June he wanted “to be part of this dialogue, to try and help the system regulate itself so innocent people who’re just living their lives don’t end up disadvantaged.
Last year it switched to a for-profit structure, saying it needed billions of dollars in investment, and this summer it announced it was aligning itself with Microsoft, which is putting in $1bn to help OpenAI pay for computing services from Azure, Microsoft’s cloud.
- On Thursday, May 28, 2020
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