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Oxford University given record £150m donation to fund AI ethics institute | UK News



An American billionaire and adviser to Donald Trump has given Oxford University its largest single donation “since the Renaissance” to investigate the ethics of artificial intelligence.

The £150m gift from Stephen A Schwarzman, chief executive and co-founder of US investment and private equity firm Blackstone, is reported to be the biggest ever single donation to a UK university.

A centre named after the philanthropist will house all of the university’s humanities subjects for the first time and is expected to open in 2024.

Stephen A. Schwarzman, chairman and CEO of Blackstone, attends the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, January 22, 2019. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
Stephen Schwarzman says AI is going to be the ‘fourth revolution’

It will also be home to Oxford University’s new Institute for Ethics in AI, which will explore questions affecting the workplace and society.

Mr Schwarzman, who is not an Oxford graduate, said he was “proud” to partner with the university as AI is going to be the “fourth revolution”.

“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 told the BBC’s Today programme.

“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 – interconnectedness, 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.”

Stephen Schwarzman and Donald Trump at the White House in February 2017
Mr Schwarzman is an adviser to US President Donald Trump

Mr Schwarzman said that ethics and AI is “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.”

Oxford University said the 72-year-old’s donation marks its largest single gift since the Renaissance.

In October last year, Mr Schwarzman announced a $350m (£279m) gift to establish the Schwarzman College of Computing at MIT in the US, and in 2007 he also donated $100m (£79m) to the New York Public Library, where he serves on the board.

Oxford’s vice chancellor, Louise Richardson, said the generous donation to the university “marks a significant endorsement of the value of the humanities in the 21st century”.

Mr Schwarzman, who did not endorse Mr Trump during his 2016 campaign, now advises the American president.

Asked about his connections with Mr Trump and those who may be uncomfortable with taking his money, Ms Richardson told the Today programme: “I’d imagine there would be very few people who feel that way.

“Do you really think we should turn down the biggest gift in modern times, which will enable hundreds of academics, thousands of students to do cutting-edge work in the humanities?”

She said universities are “all about” engaging with those who hold different points of views or politics, adding that the gift will be “transformative for many generations”.

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