£13.3m boost for Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute

10 October 2018

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Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute (FHI) is to benefit from a donation of up to £13.3 million from the philanthropic organisations Good Ventures and the Open Philanthropy Project.

The donation, which includes a £6 million up-front commitment, with further funds earmarked for the recruitment of staff, is the largest in the history of the Faculty of Philosophy at Oxford. It will support the FHI in its mission of ensuring a long and flourishing future for humanity.

The institute was established in 2005 with funding from the Oxford Martin School (then known as the James Martin 21st Century School) until 2015, and with many of its researchers maintain close collaborative links with the School through its research programmes, policy initiatives and public engagement.

Professor Sir Charles Godfray, Director of the Oxford Martin School, said: "I am delighted at the news of this donation to the Future of Humanity Institute, which has grown into a world-renowned centre of deep thinking on the big picture questions facing humanity as a whole. The team there has gone from strength to strength, and we look forward to seeing this continue, thanks to this very generous donation."

The multidisciplinary nature of the research conducted at the FHI brings the tools of mathematics, philosophy, social sciences and science to bear on big-picture questions about humanity and its prospects for a long and flourishing future. The FHI has, and continues to, shed light on crucial considerations that might shape our future.

Founding Director of the FHI, Professor Nick Bostrom, said: ‘There is a long-distance race between humanity’s technological capability, which is like a stallion galloping across the fields, and humanity’s wisdom, which is more like a foal on unsteady legs. This is a nice apple specifically for the foal.’

Researchers at the FHI have originated or played a pioneering role in developing many of the concepts that shape current thinking about humanity’s deep future. These include existential risk, astronomical waste, the simulation argument, nanotechnology, the great filter, infinitarian paralysis, prediction markets, and analysis of superintelligence, brain emulation scenarios, human enhancement, transhumanism, and anthropics. This funding will help the FHI to scale up its research efforts and make advances in these and other crucial research areas, especially research towards AI and its alignment, governance and coordination, and towards biosecurity.

This stream of funding will foster new research and future research leaders in the fields of technical AI safety, governance of AI, biosecurity, and other challenges facing humanity with the advent of advanced technologies. It will also help the FHI launch the Research Scholars Programme, providing opportunities to early career researchers to help encourage critical thinking on these important issues. This funding will cover costs associated with the programme until 2021. In addition, up to eight graduate students will benefit from full funding for their studies through FHI scholarships.

Nick Beckstead, Program Officer for Global Catastrophic Risks at The Open Philanthropy Project, said: ‘The FHI has made major contributions to the study of potential risks from advanced AI and other issues related to humanity’s long-term future. We hope this funding will expand their work in these areas, and provide opportunities for a range of talented new people to enter the field.’

Founded in 2011, Good Ventures works towards building a better world by taking the fullest advantage to serve others and to improve as many lives as possible. The Open Philanthropy Project, which was operated by Good Ventures until 2017 when it became an independent organisation, conducts research on the most effective ways to give, openly sharing its findings with other organisations and the general public. The Open Philanthropy Project identifies outstanding giving opportunities, makes grants, follows the results, and publishes its findings. Its mission is to give as effectively as it can and share the findings openly so that anyone can build on them.