Several technology luminaries are announcing today that they have committed $1 billion to fund a new nonprofit artificial intelligence research company called OpenAI.

Y Combinator president Sam Altman, former Stripe chief technology officer Greg Brockman, Tesla and SpaceX cofounder Elon Musk, LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman, Y Combinator founding partner Jessica Livingston, venture capitalist Peter Thiel, public cloud market leader Amazon Web Services, consulting company Infosys, and the recently launched YC Research lab are putting up the financial backing, according to a blog post.

“Since our research is free from financial obligations, we can better focus on a positive human impact. We believe AI should be an extension of individual human wills and, in the spirit of liberty, as broadly and evenly distributed as is possible safely,” the OpenAI team wrote in the blog post.

The launch is coming in the middle of a debate on the potential positive and negative impacts of artificial intelligence in society. Musk, Altman, Bill Gates, and other technology figureheads have weighed in on the subject as Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Apple, and other companies build up their AI technologies and talent pools.

Google research scientist Ilya Sutskever will be OpenAI’s research director. Brockman will serve as its chief technology officer. Stanford Ph.D. student and two-time former Google intern Andrej Karpathy is on board. AI luminary Yoshua Bengio is an advisor in the effort.

The organization wants to publish its research and collaborate with other groups, the blog post states.

Here’s Elon Musk commenting on the launch in a post on Medium’s Backchannel from Steven Levy:

As you know, I’ve had some concerns about AI for some time. And I’ve had many conversations with Sam and with Reid [Hoffman], Peter Thiel, and others. And we were just thinking, “Is there some way to insure, or increase, the probability that AI would develop in a beneficial way?” And as a result of a number of conversations, we came to the conclusion that having a 501(c)3, a non-profit, with no obligation to maximize profitability, would probably be a good thing to do. And also we’re going to be very focused on safety.

And then philosophically there’s an important element here: we want AI to be widespread. There’s two schools of thought  — do you want many AIs, or a small number of AIs? We think probably many is good. And to the degree that you can tie it to an extension of individual human will, that is also good.

Altman also plays up the benefits of OpenAI’s nonprofit structure, especially in comparison with another company investing big-time in AI:

“Because we are not a for-profit company, like a Google, we can focus not on trying to enrich our shareholders, but what we believe is the actual best thing for the future of humanity,” Altman said in the Medium Backchannel post.

Startups like Asana, Hashicorp, and Quip are donating their tools for OpenAI team members to use.

Oh, and OpenAI is hiring!

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