Blackstone boss funds Oxford AI ethics centre

An American billionaire has made a £150 million donation to Oxford University – the largest cash gift in the institution's near 1,000-year history – for a humanities centre that will study the ethics of artificial intelligence.

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The government described the donation by Stephen Schwarzman, the chief executive and co-founder of US investment and private equity firm Blackstone, as "globally significant". It might also be the largest, single cash gift to any UK university and comes at a time when the higher education sector is worried about the possibility of a lack of research funding because of Brexit. 

Donation reinforces the reputation of UK higher education 

Welcoming the donation, Universities Minister Chris Skidmore said, "Pushing the boundaries of knowledge and conquering new innovations are what our universities are known for across the world. And attracting this globally significant investment reinforces our reputation as a leader in higher education."More importantly, disciplines within humanities enrich our culture and society and have an immeasurable impact on our health and wellbeing."Not only do I look forward to the benefits this can bring to students but also the prospect of transforming the world we live in."

AI one of the major issues of our age 

Mr Schwarzman told the BBC he was giving the money to Oxford because artificial intelligence was one of the major issues of our age. "At the moment, most governments are utterly unprepared to deal with this, and why would they be, it's a different type of technology," he said. "They're going to have to rely on great universities like Oxford, and others around the world who specialise in helping them think this through." 

Universities must construct an ethical framework for technological changes

Mr Schwarzman told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that universities must help construct an ethical framework for changes that are happening rapidly, adding he was proud to partner Oxford to create the new centre, which is expected to open in 2024 and will also include performing arts and exhibition venues."AI is going to be the fourth revolution, and it is going to impact jobs, excellence, efficiency and it is a force for amazing good and also a potential force for not good," he said.

The introduction of AI must learn from the mistakes of the internet

"And what is important about it isn't just what it can do, but making sure it is introduced in a way unlike the internet."The internet was invented by a bunch of computer scientists and they threw it out there because they thought it was cool."And parts of it were cool: inter-connectedness – globally, the ability to communicate. It is pretty amazing. What they forgot were all the negatives: this inability to control cyber bullying, lack of freedom of speech – all kinds of negative things."He described ethics and AI as, "one of the major issues of our age", adding, "Because AI is going to come, it is really unstoppable, it is not just AI, it is robotics and all kinds of other computer science innovations."Professor Louise Richardson, the vice-chancellor of the University of Oxford, said the donation, "marks a significant endorsement of the value of the humanities in the 21st century".Questioned about Mr Schwarzman's role as an adviser to President Trump, she said all philanthropic gifts were reviewed to make sure they matched the university's values."The margin of excellence requires more than we can expect from public funding, so philanthropy is going to become more important for Oxford and other universities," she added.Last year, Mr Schwarzman, who is not an Oxford graduate, donated $350 million to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to establish a centre for computing and AI.Subscribe to Relocate Extra, our monthly newsletter, to get all the latest international assignments and global mobility news.Relocate’s new Global Mobility Toolkit provides free information, practical advice and support for HR, global mobility managers and global teams operating overseas.Global Mobility Toolkit download factsheets resource centreAccess hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online DirectoryClick to get to the Relocate Global Online Directory