Elon Musk and other big tech names are worried that humanity will develop artificial intelligence and a threat to humanity - think self-aware killer robots that realise their best course of action is to wipe out mankind.

Or, basically, terminators.

Musk has been raising the alarm about this possibility for a while now. At an MIT event last year, he called artificial intelligence humanity's "biggest existential threat" and compared it to "summoning the demon".

Tesla and Space X head Elon Musk. Photo / Getty
Tesla and Space X head Elon Musk. Photo / Getty

Musk was one of a slew of scientists and tech leaders, including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Stephen Hawking, who signed onto a letter calling for artificial intelligence research to be aimed at creating systems that "do what we want them to do", rather than, say, killing us all.


Even Bill Gates, in a Reddit chat in January, said he doesn't "understand why some people are not concerned" about the possibility of a rogue, self-aware robot.

This anti-Skynet contingent is increasingly putting their money where their dystopian fear is. Musk and a group of other big tech names, including fellow PayPal co-founder and investor Peter Thiel and Amazon Web Services, have committed $1 billion to a group called OpenAI.

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It's a nonprofit company specifically aimed at responsible artificial intelligence development. "It's hard to fathom how much human-level AI could benefit society, and it's equally hard to imagine how much it could damage society if built or used incorrectly," a blog post announcing the venture said. Its chief technology officer is Greg Brockman, who formerly held the same role at digital payments company Stripe, and Musk and YCombinator president Sam Altman are co-chairs.

PayPal co-founder and investor Peter Thiel. Photo / Brett Phibbs
PayPal co-founder and investor Peter Thiel. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The group says researchers will be "strongly encouraged to publish their work", and any patents it obtains will be "shared with the world". It doesn't plan to burn through the $1 billion right away - it expects to "only spend a tiny fraction" of the mega-fund in the next few years.

But OpenAI isn't the first nonprofit with big tech ties aimed at finding positive uses for artificial intelligence. Last year, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen launched the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, which uses the tagline "AI for the common good".

The big takeaway from these apparently altruistic investments is that Silicon Valley thinks a future where terminators could exist is basically inevitable. But they want to do everything they can to ensure that the tech that could support those killing machines gets used for good instead.