Oxford University receives £150m donation for AI research

19 Jun 2019

Oxford University. Image: © Skowron/Stock.adobe.com

A US billionaire has made a significant contribution to Oxford University.

Oxford University has confirmed that it has received its biggest ever cash donation on record after US billionaire Stephen A Schwarzman gifted the institution £150m to investigate the ethics of artificial intelligence (AI).

Schwarzman is the chair, CEO and co-founder of Blackstone, which is one of the world’s leading investment firms and boasts more than $500bn in assets under management.

The money will be used to create the Stephen A Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities, which will see Oxford’s eleven humanities departments gathered all under the same roof for the first time, alongside exhibition and performance spaces. It is expected that the institute will open in 2024.

The Schwarzman Centre will also house the new Institute for Ethics in AI, which will explore the ethical implications of emerging technologies such as AI.

“Technology left unaffected would trample over certain aspects of human behaviour and human opportunities,” explained Schwarzman, speaking to The Telegraph. “If we used the study of the humanities to reaffirm western values and set up a new institute for artificial intelligence that values ethics, all of this together would be a very unique opportunity to help the world adjust to changing times.”

He added that donating the £150m was a “very logical and comfortable decision”.

Though it appears this is the biggest donation the university has ever received in its history, it is hesitant to state that definitively, as assessing the value of land from hundreds of years ago and calculating its equivalent modern worth is difficult. Historians have confidently stated, however, that it is the largest donation since the Renaissance.

Schwarzman was initially approached by Oxford professor Louise Richardson at his Blackstone office, who said she was “delighted” at news of the investment, which exceeded the modest plan she initially proposed.

“There has been an awful lot of attention recently in STEM so we delight in the focus on the humanities and want to ensure they stay at the centre of technological development,” she said.

Eva Short was a journalist at Silicon Republic