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Research Priorities for Robust and Beneficial Artificial Intelligence: An Open Letter

There is now a broad consensus that AI research is progressing steadily, and that its impact on society is likely to increase. The potential benefits are huge, since everything that civilization has to offer is a product of human intelligence. Because of the great potential of AI, it is important to research how to reap its benefits while avoiding potential pitfalls.
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Published
October 28, 2015

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Artificial intelligence (AI) research has explored a variety of problems and approaches since its inception, but for the last 20 years or so has been focused on the problems surrounding the construction of intelligent agents - systems that perceive and act in some environment. In this context, "intelligence" is related to statistical and economic notions of rationality - colloquially, the ability to make good decisions, plans, or inferences. The adoption of probabilistic and decision-theoretic representations and statistical learning methods has led to a large degree of integration and cross-fertilization among AI, machine learning, statistics, control theory, neuroscience, and other fields. The establishment of shared theoretical frameworks, combined with the availability of data and processing power, has yielded remarkable successes in various component tasks such as speech recognition, image classification, autonomous vehicles, machine translation, legged locomotion, and question-answering systems.

As capabilities in these areas and others cross the threshold from laboratory research to economically valuable technologies, a virtuous cycle takes hold whereby even small improvements in performance are worth large sums of money, prompting greater investments in research. There is now a broad consensus that AI research is progressing steadily, and that its impact on society is likely to increase. The potential benefits are huge, since everything that civilization has to offer is a product of human intelligence; we cannot predict what we might achieve when this intelligence is magnified by the tools AI may provide, but the eradication of disease and poverty are not unfathomable. Because of the great potential of AI, it is important to research how to reap its benefits while avoiding potential pitfalls.

The progress in AI research makes it timely to focus research not only on making AI more capable, but also on maximizing the societal benefit of AI. Such considerations motivated the AAAI 2008-09 Presidential Panel on Long-Term AI Futures and other projects on AI impacts, and constitute a significant expansion of the field of AI itself, which up to now has focused largely on techniques that are neutral with respect to purpose. We recommend expanded research aimed at ensuring that increasingly capable AI systems are robust and beneficial: our AI systems must do what we want them to do. The attached research priorities document gives many examples of such research directions that can help maximize the societal benefit of AI. This research is by necessity interdisciplinary, because it involves both society and AI. It ranges from economics, law and philosophy to computer security, formal methods and, of course, various branches of AI itself.

In summary, we believe that research on how to make AI systems robust and beneficial is both important and timely, and that there are concrete research directions that can be pursued today.

If you have questions about this letter, please contact Max Tegmark.

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Prominent Signatories

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To date, the open letter has been signed by over 8,000 people. The list of signatories includes:

Stuart Russell, Berkeley, Professor of Computer Science, director of the Center for Intelligent Systems, and co-author of the standard textbook Artificial Intelligence: a Modern Approach.
Tom Dietterich, Oregon State, President of AAAI, Professor and Director of Intelligent Systems
Eric Horvitz, Microsoft research director, ex AAAI president, co-chair of the AAAI presidential panel on long-term AI futures
Bart Selman, Cornell, Professor of Computer Science, co-chair of the AAAI presidential panel on long-term AI futures
Francesca Rossi, Padova & Harvard, Professor of Computer Science, IJCAI President and Co-chair of AAAI committee on impact of AI and Ethical Issues
Demis Hassabis, co-founder of DeepMind
Shane Legg, co-founder of DeepMind
Mustafa Suleyman, co-founder of DeepMind
Dileep George, co-founder of Vicarious
Scott Phoenix, co-founder of Vicarious
Yann LeCun, head of Facebook’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory
Geoffrey Hinton, University of Toronto and Google Inc.
Yoshua Bengio, Université de Montréal
Peter Norvig, Director of research at Google and co-author of the standard textbook Artificial Intelligence: a Modern Approach
Oren Etzioni, CEO of Allen Inst. for AI
Guruduth Banavar, VP, Cognitive Computing, IBM Research
Michael Wooldridge, Oxford, Head of Dept. of Computer Science, Chair of European Coordinating Committee for Artificial Intelligence
Leslie Pack Kaelbling, MIT, Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, founder of the Journal of Machine Learning Research
Tom Mitchell, CMU, former President of AAAI, chair of Machine Learning Department
Toby Walsh, Univ. of New South Wales & NICTA, Professor of AI and President of the AI Access Foundation
Murray Shanahan, Imperial College, Professor of Cognitive Robotics
Michael Osborne, Oxford, Associate Professor of Machine Learning
David Parkes, Harvard, Professor of Computer Science
Laurent Orseau, Google DeepMind
Ilya Sutskever, Google, AI researcher
Blaise Aguera y Arcas, Google, AI researcher
Joscha Bach, MIT, AI researcher
Bill Hibbard, Madison, AI researcher
Steve Omohundro, AI researcher
Ben Goertzel, OpenCog Foundation
Richard Mallah, Cambridge Semantics, Director of Advanced Analytics, AI researcher
Alexander Wissner-Gross, Harvard, Fellow at the Institute for Applied Computational Science
Adrian Weller, Cambridge, AI researcher
Jacob Steinhardt, Stanford, AI Ph.D. student
Nick Hay, Berkeley, AI Ph.D. student
Jaan Tallinn, co-founder of Skype, CSER and FLI
Elon Musk, SpaceX, Tesla Motors
Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple
Luke Nosek, Founders Fund
Aaron VanDevender, Founders Fund
Erik Brynjolfsson, MIT, Professor at and director of MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy
Margaret Boden, U. Sussex, Professor of Cognitive Science
Martin Rees, Cambridge, Professor Emeritus of Cosmology and Astrophysics, Gruber & Crafoord laureate
Huw Price, Cambridge, Bertrand Russell Professor of Philosophy
Nick Bostrom, Oxford, Professor of Philosophy, Director of Future of Humanity Institute (Oxford Martin School)
Stephen Hawking, Director of research at the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at Cambridge, 2012 Fundamental Physics Prize laureate for his work on quantum gravity
Luke Muehlhauser, Executive Director of Machine Intelligence Research Institute (MIRI)
Eliezer Yudkowsky, MIRI researcher, co-founder of MIRI (then known as SIAI)
Katja Grace, MIRI researcher
Benja Fallenstein, MIRI researcher
Nate Soares, MIRI researcher
Paul Christiano, Berkeley, Computer Science graduate student
Anders Sandberg, Oxford, Future of Humanity Institute researcher (Oxford Martin School)
Daniel Dewey, Oxford, Future of Humanity Institute researcher (Oxford Martin School)
Stuart Armstrong, Oxford, Future of Humanity Institute researcher (Oxford Martin School)
Toby Ord, Oxford, Future of Humanity Institute researcher (Oxford Martin School), Founder of Giving What We Can
Neil Jacobstein, Singularity University
Dominik Grewe, Google DeepMind
Roman V. Yampolskiy, University of Louisville
Vincent C. Müller, ACT/Anatolia College
Amnon H Eden, University Essex
Henry Kautz, University of Rochester
Boris Debic, Google, Chief History Officer
Kevin Leyton-Brown, University of British Columbia, Professor of Computer Science
Trevor Back, Google DeepMind
Moshe Vardi, Rice University, editor-in-chief of Communications of the ACM
Peter Sincak, prof. TU Kosice, Slovakia
Tom Schaul, Google DeepMind
Grady Booch, IBM Fellow
Alan Mackworth, Professor of Computer Science, University of British Columbia. Ex AAAI President
Andrew Davison, Professor of Robot Vision, Director of the Dyson Robotics Lab at Imperial College London
Daniel Weld, WRF / TJ Cable Professor of Computer Science & Engineering, University of Washington
Michael Witbrock, Cycorp Inc & AI4Good.org
Stephen L. Reed, ai-coin.com
Thomas Stone, Co-founder of PredictionIO
Dan Roth, University of Illinois, Editor in Chief of The Journal of AI Research (JAIR)
Babak Hodjat, Sentient Technologies
Vincent Vanhoucke, Google, AI researcher
Itamar Arel, Stanford University, Prof. of Computer Science
Ramon Lopez de Mantaras, Director of the Artificial Intelligence Research Institute, Spanish National Research Council
Antoine Blondeau, Sentient Technologies
George Dvorsky, Contributing Editor, io9; Chair of the Board, Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies
George Church, Harvard & MIT
Klaus-Dieter Althoff, University of Hildesheim, Professor of Artificial Intelligence; Head of Competence Center Case-Based Reasoning, German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence, Kaiserslautern; Editor-in-Chief German Journal on Artificial Intelligence
Christopher Bishop, Distinguished Scientist, Microsoft Research
Jen-Hsun Huang, NVIDIA CEO

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