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Eric Schmidt Plans to Give A.I. Researchers $125 Million to Tackle ‘Hard Problems'

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  • The funding will aim to support research into "hard problems" in AI, including bias and safety.
  • It will be co-chaired by Schmidt, and James Manyika, Google's new head of technology and society.
  • Payouts are set to be made to individual academics over the next five years.

Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, is planning to invest $125 million into artificial intelligence research through his philanthropic Schmidt Futures venture.

The funding, set to be administered through an initiative dubbed AI2050, will aim to support academics working on "hard problems" in AI.

"AI will cause us to rethink what it means to be human," Schmidt said in a statement Wednesday. "As we chart a path forward to a future with AI, we need to prepare for the unintended consequences that might come along with doing so."

Schmidt, who has warned of the dangers of AI before, highlighted how in the early days of the internet no one expected social media platforms to disrupt elections and influence our lives, opinions and actions to the extent that they do now.

"Lessons like these make it even more urgent to be prepared moving forward," he said.

"Artificial intelligence can be a massive force for good in society, but now is the time to ensure that the AI we build has human interests at its core." 

The AI2050 initiative will be co-chaired by Schmidt, and James Manyika, Google's new head of technology and society.

Payouts are set to be made to individual academics over the next five years.

Berkeley academic Stuart Russell and Rediet Abebe are among the first to have been named fellows. Abebe is studying how AI can help measure and mitigate socioeconomic inequality, while Russell is studying probabilistic programming with the aim of improving AI's interpretability, provable safety, and performance.

Abebe told CNBC that she declined the award and fellowship and has asked for her name to be removed from consideration.

Jon Crowcroft, a computer scientist at Cambridge University, told CNBC that the money should be used to fund researchers who are trying to make AI more sustainable, adding that many of the tech giants are too focused on developing huge AI models that are very costly to train.

Crowcroft said he'd also like to see more investment into making AI systems interpretable. As it stands, humans don't know how or why many of today's most advanced AIs make the decisions they make.

Schmidt chaired the U.S. National Commission on Artificial Intelligence from 2018 to 2021. Last March, the commission found that the U.S. is drastically underprepared for the age of AI.

In a 756-page report, it warned that China could soon replace the U.S. as the world's "AI superpower" and said there were serious military implications to consider.

AI researchers told CNBC last March that there's little point in imposing strict regulations on its development at this stage, as the technology is still in its infancy and red tape will only slow down progress in the field.

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