A billionaire Donald Trump supporter has given Oxford University a record £150m donation, part of which will fund an institute charged with tackling ethics in artificial intelligence (AI).
Stephen Schwarzman, co-founder of private equity group Blackstone, said he made the donation to help people “remember what being human is” amid what will be the “unstoppable” rise of robots.
The gift will see the creation of a new humanities centre that will see the university’s English, history, linguistics, philology and phonetics, medieval and modern languages, music, philosophy, and theology and religion programmes housed together for the first time.
The Schwarzman Centre will also feature performing arts and exhibition venues.
Mr Schwarzman, a friend of Mr Trump’s who chaired the president’s Strategic and Policy Forum, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he believes AI will constitute the “fourth revolution” for humanity.
“It’s going to impact jobs, excellence, efficiency, and it’s a force for amazing good, and also a potential force for not good, and what’s important about it is it isn’t just about what it can do,” he said.
“I think the scientists agree that they want AI introduced in an ethical way, because they don’t want to experience the downsides.
“I think this is one of the major issues of our age, because AI is going to come, it’s really unstoppable. It’s not just AI, it’s robotics and all other kinds of computer science innovations.”
Responding to a suggestion Mr Schwarzman’s support for the US president could prove controversial for the university, vice-chancellor Louise Richardson insisted differing political views were welcome among its philanthropists.
“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 told the programme.
She added the “generous donation” by Mr Schwarzman, who is not an Oxford University alumnus, marked a “significant endorsement of the value of the humanities in the 21st century”.