Tech giants including Elon Musk, Reid Hoffman, Peter Thiel, and Sam Altman have joined forces to found a non-profit research group dubbed OpenAI with a view to encouraging research into its beneficial implementations.

Research into artificial intelligence, from self-driving cars to systems for scanning vast email archives for potential terrorist plots, is exploding at present. While some figures, such as Stephen Hawking, have warned of the potential threat of strong AI, others have proclaimed that the technology could be of real benefit for humanity - and it's these figures that have joined up to form the OpenAI non-profit.

Lead by machine learning expert Ilya Sutskever, the group boasts a long list of billionaire backers: its co-chairs are Y Combinator president Sam Altman and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, while other names placing their backing to the project include LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, former chief technical officer of Stripe Greg Brockman, fellow Y Combinator founding partner Jessica Livingston, and Amazon through its Amazon Web Services (AWS) division. All told, its backers have pledged $1 billion in funding - though the group notes that 'we expect to spend only a tiny fraction of this in the next few years.'

In its introductory post, the group explains its goal: '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 possible. The outcome of this venture is uncertain and the work is difficult, but we believe the goal and the structure are right. We hope this is what matters most to the best in the field.'

The announcement comes as Cambridge University announces its own £10 million research centre, funded with a grant from the Leverhulme Trust, to explore the opportunities and challenges that will face humanity as artificial intelligence technology improves.
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