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K&L Gates gives $10M to CMU to study ethics of AI

Aaron Aupperlee
| Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016, 10:24 a.m.
The Gates Center for Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University
The Gates Center for Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University

Devendra Chaplot has seen how uneasy people get about the ethics behind artificial intelligence.

He and research partner Guillaume Lample, both Carnegie Mellon University students, published a research paper in September about an artificial intelligence program they created that could outduel humans in the 3D video game Doom.

The pair were quickly accused of developing a killer robot.

They weren't, Chaplot said. And as for killer robots, there's a lot of work to be done before we can even start talking about them, he said.

“We are so far away from creating killer robots. We shouldn't be worried about it,” Chaplot said. “To be worried about machines taking over, you need to have a machine having a conscience.”

And they don't, at least not yet. But other ethical issues surrounding artificial intelligence are close at hand and worth studying.

Carnegie Mellon on Wednesday announced it had received a $10 million gift from international law firm K&L Gates, which has a major office Downtown, to further the study of ethical issues posed by artificial intelligence and other advanced technology.

“We are deeply grateful to K&L Gates for this generous support,” CMU President Subra Suresh said in a statement. “It is not just technology that will determine how this century unfolds. Our future will also be influenced strongly by how humans interact with technology, how we foresee and respond to the unintended consequences of our work, and how we ensure that technology is used to benefit humanity, individually and as a society.”

CMU is considered the birthplace of artificial intelligence, and the university has stayed a hotbed for AI innovation. Researchers there are grappling with how automation changes the way humans interact with technology and each other. What decisions should we cede to artificial intelligence? How can we trust it if we don't completely understand how it works? How can we stop it?

“There are a large number of questions,” said David Danks, a CMU professor of philosophy and psychology. “Killer robots are only one instance.”

The K&L Gates Endowment for Ethics and Computational Technologies will fund two new faculty chairs, three fellowships for doctoral student and a scholarship fund. It will establish a biennial international conference for academics and policy makers and an annual K&L Gates Prize awarded to a graduating senior.

The $10 million gift is the largest by K&L Gates. The firm said it is the largest made by a law firm to a college or university.

The firm has provided legal services and advice to CMU for decades. K&L Gates Chairman Emeritus Charles J. Queenan Jr. once chaired CMU's Board of Trustees.

“As a society, our ethical choices in this field will greatly influence what kind of world we will have. Its values. Its culture. Its laws. And, ultimately, its humanity,” Peter J. Kalis, K&L Gates chairman and global managing partner, said in a statement.

NOTE: This post has been updated from the original to correct the spelling of professor David Danks' name.

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