2015: An Amazing Year in Review

Just four days before the end of the year, the Washington Post published an article, arguing that 2015 was the year the beneficial AI movement went mainstream. FLI couldn’t be more excited and grateful to have helped make this happen and to have emerged as integral part of this movement. And that’s only a part of what we’ve accomplished in the last 12 months. It’s been a big year for us…

 

In the beginning

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Participants and attendees of the inaugural Puerto Rico conference.

2015 began with a bang, as we kicked off the New Year with our Puerto Rico conference, “The Future of AI: Opportunities and Challenges,” which was held January 2-5. We brought together about 80 top AI researchers, industry leaders and experts in economics, law and ethics to discuss the future of AI. The goal, which was successfully achieved, was to identify promising research directions that can help maximize the future benefits of AI while avoiding pitfalls. Before the conference, relatively few AI researchers were thinking about AI safety, but by the end of the conference, essentially everyone had signed the open letter, which argued for timely research to make AI more robust and beneficial. That open letter was ultimately signed by thousands of top minds in science, academia and industry, including Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, and Steve Wozniak, and a veritable Who’s Who of AI researchers. This letter endorsed a detailed Research Priorities Document that emerged as the key product of the conference.

At the end of the conference, Musk announced a donation of $10 million to FLI for the creation of an AI safety research grants program to carry out this prioritized research for beneficial AI. We received nearly 300 research grant applications from researchers around the world, and on July 1, we announced the 37 AI safety research teams who would be awarded a total of $7 million for this first round of research. The research is funded by Musk, as well as the Open Philanthropy Project.

 

Forging ahead

On April 4, we held a large brainstorming meeting on biotech risk mitigation that included George Church and several other experts from the Harvard Wyss Institute and the Cambridge Working Group. We concluded that there are interesting opportunities for FLI to contribute in this area, and we endorsed the CWG statement on the Creation of Potential Pandemic Pathogens.

On June 29, we organized a SciFoo workshop at Google, which Meia Chita-Tegmark wrote about for the Huffington Post. We held a media outreach dinner event that evening in San Francisco with Stuart Russell, Murray Shanahan, Ilya Sutskever and Jaan Tallinn as speakers.

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All five FLI-founders flanked by other beneficial-AI enthusiasts. From left to right, top to bottom: Stuart Russell. Jaan Tallinn, Janos Kramar, Anthony Aguirre, Max Tegmark, Nick Bostrom, Murray Shanahan, Jesse Galef, Michael Vassar, Nate Soares, Viktoriya Krakovna, Meia Chita-Tegmark and Katja Grace

Less than a month later, we published another open letter, this time advocating for a global ban on offensive autonomous weapons development. Stuart Russell and Toby Walsh presented the autonomous weapons open letter at the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Buenos Aires, Argentina, while Richard Mallah garnered more support and signatories engaging AGI researchers at the Conference on Artificial General Intelligence in Berlin. The letter has been signed by over 3,000 AI and robotics researchers, including leaders such as Demis Hassabis (DeepMind), Yann LeCun (Facebook), Eric Horvitz (Microsoft), Peter Norvig (Google), Oren Etzioni (Allen Institute), six past presidents of the AAAI, and over 17,000 other scientists and concerned individuals, including Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and Steve Wozniak.

This was followed by an open letter about the economic impacts of AI, which was spearheaded by Erik Brynjolfsson, a member of our Scientific Advisory Board. Inspired by our Puerto Rico AI conference and the resulting open letter, a team of economists and business leaders launched their own open letter about AI’s future impact on the economy. It includes specific policy suggestions to ensure positive economic impact.

By October 2015, we wanted to try to bring more public attention to not only artificial intelligence, but also other issues that could pose an existential risk, including biotechnology, nuclear weapons, and climate change. We launched a new incarnation of our website, which now focuses on relevant news and the latest research in all of these fields. The goal is to draw more public attention to both the risks and the opportunities that technology provides.

Besides these major projects and events, we also organized, helped with, and participated in numerous other events and discussions.

 

Other major events

Richard Mallah, Max Tegmark, Francesca Rossi and Stuart Russell went to the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence conference in January, where they encouraged researchers to consider safety issues. Stuart spoke to about 500 people about the long-term future of AI. Max spoke at the first annual International Workshop on AI, Ethics, and Society, organized by Toby Walsh, as well as at a funding workshop, where he presented the FLI grants program.

Max spoke again, at the start of March, this time for the Helen Caldicott Nuclear Weapons Conference, about reducing the risk of accidental nuclear war and how this relates to automation and AI. At the end of the month, he gave a talk at Harvard Effective Altruism entitled, “The Future of Life with AI and other Powerful Technologies.” This year, Max also gave talks about the Future of Life Institute at a Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics colloquium, MIT Effective Altruism, and the MIT “Dissolve Conference” (with Prof. Jonathan King), at a movie screening of “Dr. Strangelove,” and at a meeting in Cambridge about reducing the risk of nuclear war.

In June, Richard presented at Boston University’s Science and the Humanities Confront the Anthropocene conference about the risks associated with emerging technologies. That same month, Stuart Russell and MIRI Executive Director, Nate Soares, participated in a panel discussion about the risks and policy implications of AI (video here).

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Concerns about autonomous weapons led to an open letter calling for a ban.

Richard then led the FLI booth at the International Conference on Machine Learning in July, where he engaged with hundreds of researchers about AI safety and beneficence. He also spoke at the SmartData conference in August about the relationship between ontology alignment and value alignment, and he participated in the DARPA Wait, What? conference in September.

Victoria Krakovna and Anthony Aguirre both spoke at the Effective Altruism Global conference at Google headquarters in July, where Elon Musk, Stuart Russell, Nate Soares and Nick Bostrom also participated in a panel discussion. A month later, Jaan Tallin spoke at the EA Global Oxford conference. Victoria and Anthony also organized a brainstorming dinner on biotech, which was attended by many of the Bay area’s synthetic biology experts, and Victoria put together two Machine Learning Safety meetings in the Bay Area. The latter were dinner meetings, which aimed to bring researchers and FLI grant awardees together to help strengthen connections and discuss promising research directions. One of the dinners included a Q&A with Stuart Russell.

September saw FLI and CSER co-organize an event at the Policy Exchange in London where Huw Price, Stuart Russell, Nick Bostrom, Michael Osborne and Murray Shanahan discussed AI safety to the scientifically minded in Westminster, including many British members of parliament.

Only a month later, Max Tegmark and Nick Bostrom were invited to speak at a United Nations event about AI safety, and our Scientific Advisory Board member, Stephen Hawking released his answers to the Reddit “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) about artificial intelligence.

Toward the end of the year, we began to focus more effort on nuclear weapons issues. We’ve partnered with the Don’t Bank on the Bomb campaign, and we’re pleased to support financial research to determines which companies and institutions invest in and profit from the production of new nuclear weapons systems. The goal is to draw attention to and stigmatize such production, which arguably increases the risk of accidental nuclear war without notably improving today’s nuclear deterrence. In November, Lucas Perry presented some of our research at the Massachusetts Peace Action conference.

Anthony launched a new site, Metaculus.com. The Metaculus project, which is something of an offshoot of FLI, is a new platform for soliciting and aggregating predictions about technological breakthroughs, scientific discoveries, world happenings, and other events.  The aim of this project is to build an all-purpose, crowd-powered forecasting engine that can help organizations (like FLI) or individuals better understand the trajectory of future events and technological progress. This will allow for more quantitatively informed predictions and decisions about how to optimize the future for the better.

 

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Richard Mallah speaking at the third panel discussion of the NIPS symposium.

In December, Max participated in a panel discussion at the Nobel Week Dialogue about The Future of Intelligence and moderated two related panels. Richard, Victoria, and Ariel Conn helped organize the Neural Information Processing Systems symposium, “Algorithms Among Us: The Societal Impacts of Machine Learning,” where Richard participated in the panel discussion on long-term research priorities. To date, we’ve posted two articles with takeaways from the symposium and NIPS as a whole. Just a couple days later, Victoria rounded out the active year with her attendance at the Machine Learning and the Market for Intelligence conference in Toronto, and Richard presented to the IEEE Standards Association.

 

In the Press

We’re excited about all we’ve achieved this year, and we feel honored to have received so much press about our work. For example:

The beneficial AI open letter has been featured by media outlets around the world, including WIRED, Financial Times, Popular Science, CIO, BBC, CNBC, The Independent,  The Verge, Z, DNet, CNET, The Telegraph, World News Views, The Economic Times, Industry Week, and Live Science.

You can find more media coverage of Elon Musk’s donation at Fast Company, Tech Crunch , WIRED, Mashable, Slash Gear, and BostInno.

Max, along with our Science Advisory Board member, Stuart Russell, and Erik Horvitz from Microsoft, were interviewed on NPR’s Science Friday about AI safety.

Max was later interviewed on NPR’s On Point Radio, along with FLI grant recipients Manuela Veloso and Thomas Dietterich, for a lively discussion about the AI safety research program.

Stuart Russell was interviewed about the autonomous weapons open letter on NPR’s All Things Considered (audio) and Al Jazeera America News (video), and Max was also interviewed about the autonomous weapons open letter on FOX Business News and CNN International.

Throughout the year, Victoria was interviewed by Popular Science, Engineering and Technology Magazine, Boston Magazine and Blog Talk Radio.

Meia Chita-Tegmark wrote five articles for the Huffington Post about artificial intelligence, including a Halloween story of nuclear weapons and highlights of the Nobel Week Dialogue, and Ariel wrote two about artificial intelligence.

In addition we had a few extra special articles on our new website:

Nobel-prize winning physicist, Frank Wilczek, shared a sci-fi short story he wrote about a future of AI wars. FLI volunteer, Eric Gastfriend, wrote a popular piece, in which he consider the impact of exponential increase in the number of scientists. Richard wrote a widely read article laying out the most important AI breakthroughs of the year. We launched the FLI Audio Files with a podcast about the Paris Climate Agreement. And Max wrote an article comparing Russia’s warning of a cobalt bomb to Dr. Strangelove.

On the last day of the year, the New Yorker published an article listing the top 10 tech quotes of 2015, and a quote from our autonomous weapons open letter came in at number one.

 

A New Beginning

2015 has now come to an end, but we believe this is really just the beginning. 2016 has the potential to be an even bigger year, bringing new and exciting challenges and opportunities. The FLI slogan says, “Technology is giving life the potential to flourish like never before…or to self-destruct.” We look forward to another year of doing all we can to help humanity flourish!

Happy New Year!

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FLI November Newsletter

News Site Launch
We are excited to present our new xrisk news site! With improved layout and design, it aims to provide you with daily technology news relevant to the long-term future of civilization, covering both opportunities and risks. This will, of course, include news about the projects we and our partner organizations are involved in to help prevent these risks. We’re also developing a section of the site that will provide more background information about the major risks, as well as what people can do to help reduce them and keep society flourishing.
Reducing Risk of Nuclear War

Some investments in nuclear weapons systems might increase the risk of accidental nuclear war and are arguably done primarily for profit rather than national security. Illuminating these financial drivers provides another opportunity to reduce the risk of nuclear war. FLI is pleased to support financial research about who invests in and profits from the production of new nuclear weapons systems, with the aim of drawing attention to and stigmatizing such productions.

On November 12, Don’t Bank on the Bomb released their 2015 report on European financial institutions that have committed to divesting in any companies related to the manufacture of nuclear weapons. The report also highlights financial groups who have made positive steps toward divestment, and it provides a detailed list of companies that are still heavily invested in nuclear weapons. With the Cold War long over, many people don’t realize that the risk of nuclear war still persists and that many experts believe it to be increasing.Here is FLI’s assessment and position of the nuclear weapons situation. 

In case you missed it…
Here are some other interesting things we and our partners have done in the last few months:
  • On September 1, FLI and CSER co-organized an event at the Policy Exchange in London where Huw Price, Stuart Russell, Nick Bostrom, Michael Osborne and Murray Shanahan discussed AI safety in front of a veritable who’s who of the scientifically minded in Westminster, including many British members of parliament.
  • Max Tegmark and Nick Bostrom were invited to speak at a United Nations event about AI safety.
  • Stephen Hawking answered the AMA questions about artificial intelligence.
  • Our co-founder, Meia Chita-Tegmark wrote a spooky Halloween op-ed that was featured on the Huffington Post about the man who saved the world from nuclear apocalypse in 1962.
  • Nobel-prize winning physicist, Frank Wilczek, shared a sci-fi short story he wrote about a future of AI wars.
  • FLI volunteer, Eric Gastfriend, wrote a popular piece, in which he consider the impact of exponential increase in the number of scientists.
  • And two of our partner organizations have published their newsletters. The Machine Intelligence Research Institute (MIRI) published an October and  November newsletter, and the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute released newsletters inSeptember and October.

Future of Life Institute Summer 2015 Newsletter

TOP DEVELOPMENTS

* $7M in AI research grants announced: We were delighted to announce the selection of 37 AI safety research teams which we plan to award a total of $7 million in funding. The grant program is funded by Elon Musk and the Open Philanthropy Project.

Max Tegmark, along with FLI grant recipients Manela Veloso and Thomas Dietterich, were interviewed on NPR’s On Point Radio for a lively discussion about our new AI safety research program.

* Open letter about autonomous weapons: FLI recently published an open letter advocating a global ban on offensive autonomous weapons development. Thousands of prominent scientists and concerned individuals are signatories, including Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, the team at DeepMind, Yann LeCun (Director of AI Research, Facebook), Eric Horvitz (Managing Director, Microsoft Research), Noam Chomsky and Steve Wozniak.

Stuart Russell was interviewed about the letter on NPR’s All Things Considered (audio) and Al Jazeera America News(video).

* Open letter about economic impacts of AI: Inspired by our Puerto Rico AI conference and the resulting open letter, a team of economists and business leaders have launched their own open letter about AI’s future impact on the economy. It includes specific policy suggestions to ensure positive economic impact.

 

EVENTS

* ITIF AI policy panel: Stuart Russell and MIRI Executive Director Nate Soares participated in a panel discussion about the risks and policy implications of AI (video here). The panel was hosted by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF), a Washington-based think tank focusing on the intersection of public policy & emerging technology.

* IJCAI 15: Stuart Russell presented the autonomous weapons open letter at the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

* EA Global conferences: FLI co-founders Viktoriya Krakovna and Anthony Aguirre spoke at the Effective Altruism Global (EA Global) conference at Google headquarters in Mountain View, California. FLI co-founder Jaan Tallinn spoke at the EA Global Oxford conference on August 28-30.

* Stephen Hawking AMA: Professor Hawking is hosting an “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) conversation on Reddit. Users recently submitted questions here; his answers will follow in the near future.

 

OTHER UPDATES

* FLI anniversary video: FLI co-founder Meia Tegmark created an anniversary video highlighting our accomplishments from our first year.

* Future of AI FAQ: We’ve created a FAQ about the future of AI, which elaborates on the position expressed in our first open letter about AI development from January.

April 2015 Newsletter

In the News

* The MIT Technology Review recently published a compelling overview of the possibilities surrounding AI, featuring Nick Bostrom’s Superintelligence and our open letter on AI research priorities.

+ For more news on our open letter, check out a thoughtful piece in Slate written by a colleague at the Future of Humanity Institute.

* FLI co-founder Meia Chita-Tegmark wrote a piece in the Huffington Post on public perceptions of AI and what it means for AI risk and research.

* Both Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak have recently joined the ranks of many AI experts and expressed concern about outcomes of superintelligent AI.

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Projects and Events

* We received nearly 300 applications for our global research program funded by Elon Musk! Thanks to hard work by a team of expert reviewers, we have now invited roughly a quarter of the applicants to submit full proposals due May 17. There are so many exciting project proposals that the review panel will face some very difficult choices! Our goal is to announce the winners by July 1.

* Looking for the latest in x-risk news? Check out our just-launched news site, featuring blog posts and articles written by x-risk researchers, journalists and FLI volunteers!

* On April 4, we held a large brainstorming meeting on biotech risk mitigation that included George Church and several other experts from the Harvard Wyss Institute and the Cambridge Working Group. We concluded that there are interesting opportunities for FLI to contribute in this area. We endorse the CWG statement on the Creation of Potential Pandemic Pathogens – click here

January 2015 Newsletter

In the News

* Top AI researchers from industry and academia have signed an FLI-organized open letter arguing for timely research to make AI more robust and beneficial. Check out our research priorities and supporters on our website.

+ The open letter has been featured by media outlets around the world, including WIRED, Financial Times, Popular Science, CIO, BBC, CNBC, The Independent , The Verge, Z, DNet, CNET, The Telegraph, World News Views, The Economic Times, Industry Week, and Live Science.

* We are delighted to report that Elon Musk has donated $10 million to FLI to create a global research program aimed at keeping AI beneficial to humanity. Read more about the program on our website.

+ You can find more media coverage of the donation at Fast Company, Tech Crunch , WIRED, Mashable, Slash Gear, and BostInno.

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Projects and Events

* FLI recently organized its first-ever conference, entitled “The Future of AI: Opportunities and Challenges.” The conference took place on January 2-5 in Puerto Rico, and brought together top AI researchers, industry leaders, and experts in economics, law, and ethics to discuss the future of AI. The goal was to identify promising research directions that can help maximize the future benefits of AI while avoiding pitfalls. Many of the speakers have posted their talks, which can be found on our website.

* The application for research funds opens Thursday, January 22. Grants are available to AI researchers and to AI-related research involving other fields such as economics, law, ethics and policy. You can find the application on our website.

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Other Updates

* We are happy to announce Francesca Rossi has joined our scientific advisory board! Francesca Rossi is a professor of computer science, with research interests within artificial intelligence. She is the president of the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI), as well as the associate editor in chief for the Journal of AI Research (JAIR). You can find our entire advisory board on our website.

* Follow and like our social media accounts and ask us questions! We are “Future of Life Institute” on Facebook and @FLIxrisk on Twitter.

November 2014 Newsletter

In the News

* The winners of the essay contest we ran in partnership with the Foundational Questions Institute have been announced! Check out the awesome winning essays on the FQXi website.

* Financial Times ran a great article about artificial intelligence and the work of organizations like FLI, with thoughts from Elon Musk and Nick Bostrom.

* Stuart Russell offered a response in a featured conversation on Edge about “The Myth of AI”. Read the conversation here.

* Check out the piece in Computer World on Elon Musk and his comments on artificial intelligence.

* The New York Times featured a fantastic article about broadening perspectives on AI, featuring Nick Bostrom, Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and more.

* Our colleagues at the Future of Humanity Institute attended the “Biosecurity 2030” meeting in London and had this to report:

+ About 12 projects have been stopped in the U.S. following the White House moratorium on gain-of-function research.

+ One of the major H5N1 (bird flu) research groups still has not vaccinated its researchers against H5N1, even though this seems like an obvious safety protocol.

+ The bioweapons convention has no enforcement mechanism at all, and nothing comprehensive on dual-use issues.

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Projects and Events

* FLI advisory board member Martin Rees gave a great talk at the Harvard Kennedy School about existential risk. Check out the profile of the event in The Harvard Crimson newspaper.

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Other Updates

* Follow and like our social media accounts and ask us questions! We are “Future of Life Institute” on Facebook and @FLIxrisk on Twitter.