Knight Foundation, Omidyar Network and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman create $27 million fund to research artificial intelligence for the public interest – Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation, Omidyar Network and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman create $27 million fund to research artificial intelligence for the public interest

MIT Media Lab and Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center to be anchor institutions

MIAMI, Jan. 10, 2017 – Recognizing the vast potential of artificial intelligence to affect the public interest, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Omidyar Network, LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, and others have formed a $27 million fund to apply the humanities, the social sciences and other disciplines to the development of AI.

The MIT Media Lab and the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University will serve as founding academic institutions for the initiative, which will be named the Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Fund. The fund will support a cross-section of AI ethics and governance projects and activities, both in the United States and internationally.

Artificial intelligence and complex algorithms in general, fueled by big data and deep-learning systems, are quickly changing how we live and work—from the news stories we see, to the loans for which we qualify, to the jobs we perform. Because of this pervasive but often concealed impact, it is imperative that AI research and development be shaped by a broad range of voices—not only by engineers and corporations, but also by social scientists, ethicists, philosophers, faith leaders, economists, lawyers and policymakers.

Hoffman and Omidyar Network each committed $10 million to the fund, while Knight Foundation committed $5 million. With the MIT Media Lab and the Berkman Klein Center, they will form a governing board to distribute awards and facilitate other activities that provide meaningful links among activities in the connective tissue between computer sciences, the social sciences and the humanities.

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and Jim Pallotta, founder of the Raptor Group, have each committed $1 million to the fund, which is expected to grow as other funders come on board.

“Artificial intelligence agents will impact our lives in every society on Earth. Technology and commerce will see to that,” said Alberto Ibargüen, president of Knight Foundation. “Since even algorithms have parents and those parents have values that they instill in their algorithmic progeny, we want to influence the outcome by ensuring ethical behavior, and governance that includes the interests of the diverse communities that will be affected.”

“As a technologist, I’m impressed by the incredible speed at which artificial intelligence technologies are developing. As a philanthropist and humanitarian, I’m eager to ensure that ethical considerations and the human impacts of these technologies are not overlooked. Omidyar Network is participating in the fund to ensure that critical areas like ethics, accountability, and governance, are considered from the earliest stages of design,” said Pierre Omidyar, founding partner, Omidyar Network, and a principal of the fund.

“There’s an urgency to ensure that AI benefits society and minimizes harm,” said Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn and partner at venture capital firm Greylock Partners . “AI decision-making can influence many aspects of our world – education, transportation, health care, criminal justice, and the economy – yet data and code behind those decisions can be largely invisible.”

The fund seeks to advance AI in the public interest by including the broadest set of voices in discussions and projects addressing the human impacts of AI. Among the issues the fund might address:

  • Communicating complexity: How do we best communicate, through words and processes, the nuances of a complex field like AI?
  • Ethical design: How do we build and design technologies that consider ethical frameworks and moral values as central features of technological innovation?
  • Advancing accountable and fair AI: What kinds of controls do we need to minimize AI’s potential harm to society and maximize its benefits?
  • Innovation in the public interest: How do we maintain the ability of engineers and entrepreneurs to innovate, create and profit, while ensuring that society is informed and that the work integrates public interest perspectives?
  • Expanding the table: How do we grow the field to ensure that a range of constituencies are involved with building the tools and analyzing social impact?

“AI’s rapid development brings along a lot of tough challenges,” said Joi Ito, director of the MIT Media Lab. “For example, one of the most critical challenges is how do we make sure that the machines we ‘train’ don’t perpetuate and amplify the same human biases that plague society. How can we best initiate a broader, in-depth discussion about how society will co-evolve with this technology, and connect computer science and social sciences to develop intelligent machines that are not only ‘smart,’ but also socially responsible?”

The Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Fund will complement and collaborate with existing efforts, such as the upcoming public symposium “AI Now,” which is scheduled for July 10 at MIT Media Lab.

The Media Lab and the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society will leverage the strengths of existing programs and pursue joints efforts that reinforce cross-disciplinary work and encourage collaboration, both in the United States and internationally. Activities that the fund will support include a joint AI fellowship program supporting people who are working to keep human issues at the forefront of AI, including working with international efforts that are underway; convening and supporting a network of people and institutions working to maximize the benefits of AI; funding expert research and other sectors affected by AI’s implications; and a thematic focus on the issues of artificial intelligence for the 2018 “Assembly” program.

“The thread running through these otherwise-disparate phenomena is a shift of reasoning and judgment away from people,” said Jonathan Zittrain, co-founder of the Berkman Klein Center and Professor of Law and Computer Science at Harvard University. “Sometimes that’s good, as it can free us up for other pursuits and for deeper undertakings. And sometimes it’s profoundly worrisome, as it decouples big decisions from human understanding and accountability. A lot of our work in this area will be to identify and cultivate technologies and practices that promote human autonomy and dignity rather than diminish it.”

The Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Fund will be housed at The Miami Foundation. For more on the fund, please visit

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About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy.

About the Omidyar Network
Omidyar Network is a philanthropic investment firm dedicated to harnessing the power of markets to create opportunity for people to improve their lives. Established in 2004 by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife Pam, the organization invests in and helps scale innovative organizations to catalyze economic and social change. Omidyar Network has committed more than $1 billion to for-profit companies and nonprofit organizations that foster economic advancement and encourage individual participation across multiple initiatives, including Emerging Technology, Education, Financial Inclusion, Governance & Citizen Engagement, and Property Rights. To learn more, visit, and follow on Twitter @omidyarnetwork #PositiveReturns.

About Reid Hoffman
Reid Hoffman is co-founder of LinkedIn and partner at Greylock Partners. An accomplished entrepreneur, executive, and investor, Hoffman has played an integral role in building many of today’s leading consumer technology businesses. He is also the co-author of two New York Times best-selling books: The Start-Up of You and The Alliance.

About the MIT Media Lab
The MIT Media Lab transcends known boundaries and disciplines by actively promoting a unique, antidisciplinary culture that emboldens unconventional mixing and matching of seemingly disparate research areas. The Lab creates disruptive technologies that happen at the edges, pioneering such areas as wearable computing, tangible interfaces, and affective computing. Today, faculty members, research staff, and students at the Lab work in 27 research groups on more than 470 projects that range from digital approaches for treating neurological disorders, to advanced imaging technologies that can “see around a corner,” to the world’s first “smart” powered ankle-foot prosthesis. Lab researchers are committed to delving into the questions not yet asked, whose answers could radically improve the way people live, learn, express themselves, work, and play. More information at

About the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University
The Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University is dedicated to exploring, understanding, and shaping the development of the digitally-networked environment. A diverse, interdisciplinary community of scholars, practitioners, technologists, policy experts, and advocates, we seek to tackle the most important challenges of the digital age while keeping a focus on tangible real-world impact in the public interest. Our faculty, fellows, staff and affiliates conduct research, build tools and platforms, educate others, form bridges and facilitate dialogue across and among diverse communities. More information at


Anusha Alikhan, Director of Communications, Knight Foundation: 305-908-2646, [email protected]

Jim Peacock, Director, Marketing and Communications, Omidyar Network: +44(0)777 957 4232, [email protected]

Alexandra Kahn, Senior Press Liaison, MIT Media Lab: 617-253-0365, [email protected]

Gretchen Weber, Communications Manager, Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society; [email protected]; [email protected]