The co-founder of Skype, Jaan Tallinn, is on a desperate mission to save the human race from the destruction of artificial intelligence. Since 2007, Tallinn’s dedicated more than $1 million toward preventing super-smart AIs from replacing humans as Earth’s dominant species and from destroying humanity in the process.
According to an interesting Popular Science article, the programmer discovered AI researcher Eliezer Yudkowsky’s essay “Staring into the Singularity” in 2007, two years after cashing in his Skype shares following the startup’s sale to eBay. That’s when Tallinn started pouring money into the cause of saving humanity from AI.
So far, [Tallinn has] given more than $600,000 to the Machine Intelligence Research Institute, the nonprofit where Yudkowsky is a research fellow. He’s also given $310,000 to the University of Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute, which PopSci quotes him as calling “the most interesting place in the universe.” –Futurism
It’s a lofty goal, and it may not be having much of an effect. Tallinn is strategic about his donations, however. He spreads his money among 11 organizations, each working on different approaches to AI safety, in the hope that one might stick. In 2012, he co-founded the Cambridge Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) with an initial outlay of close to $200,000.
Tallinn says that super-intelligent AI brings unique threats to the human race. Ultimately, he hopes that the AI community might follow the lead of the anti-nuclear movement in the 1940s. In the wake of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, scientists realized what a destructive force nuclear weapons had become and joined together to try to limit further nuclear testing. “The Manhattan Project scientists could have said, ‘Look, we are doing innovation here, and innovation is always good, so let’s just plunge ahead,’” he tells me. “But they were more responsible than that.”
Tallinn says that we need to take responsibility for what we create and AI, once it reaches the singularity, has the potential to overpower and outsmart human beings. If an AI is sufficiently smart, he explains, it might have a better understanding of the constraints placed on it than its creators do. Imagine, he says, “waking up in a prison built by a bunch of blind 5-year-olds.” That is very likely what it could be like for a super-intelligent AI that is confined by humans.