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Startup Keen Technologies raises $20M to advance controversial AGI

The news: Leading software engineer and video game developer John Carmack, who served as Meta’s Oculus CTO, has launched startup Keen Technologies with the aim to achieve human-like AI.

  • The startup has raised $20 million in a financing round with former GitHub CEO Nat Friedman, Cue founder Daniel Gross, Stripe CEO Patrick Collison, Shopify CEO Tobi Lütke, and Sequoia, among other investors, per TechCrunch.
  • Recently interviewed by MIT researcher Lex Fridman, Carmack said he believes AI will someday be like a human being or living creature, capable of being a “universal remote worker.”
  • Regarding AI ethics, he said, “I really stay away from any of those discussions or even really thinking about it,per Salon.
  • In response to a question about Keen’s mission, Carmack tweeted, “AGI or bust, by way of Mad Science!”
  • Keen Technologies is among an estimated 72 projects globally focused on developing human-like AI, or AGI (artificial general intelligence).

A counter movement is brewing: On the flip side of some technologists’ cavalier attitude toward AI advancement is a growing subset of researchers who want to ensure positive social outcomes for AI’s use.

  • Researchers at New York University’s AI Now Institute, along with other groups, are pushing back on approaching AI development in the spirit of Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s mantra, “move fast and break things.”
  • AI Now co-director Meredith Whittaker told Time, “How do we make sure you move as slowly as you have to, to get it right. Because the consequences for the rest of us aren’t worth the payout that you’re going to get if you do break things.”

A nuanced issue: AI has already demonstrated that it can have both positive and negative outcomes. As such, efforts to make it match or surpass human intelligence warrant careful consideration.

  • AI has shown its prowess in drug discovery and helped lay the foundation for fast development of COVID-19 vaccines.
  • However AI social media algorithms have also fueled inflammatory content linked to violence. Such content is now being mimicked by Meta’s AI BlenderBot 3.
  • Outcomes could also be mixed, with AI helping manufacturers stay afloat during labor shortages while also putting people out of work.
  • Meanwhile, face-tracking “earables,” which can read users’ facial expressions, could be helpful for people with social deficits but also breach privacy and cause bias.

Charting a positive course: Despite AI’s rise as a polarizing issue, there’s a potential pathway for companies pushing innovation while not bulldozing over ethical concerns.

  • Startups and tech giant subsidiaries developing AI could establish themselves as public benefit corporations (PCBs) to advance the technology in a way that’s helpful, not harmful.
  • PBC standards require businesses to demonstrate accountability to both their shareholders and the public good.
  • This would encourage companies to develop AI with the public’s benefit in mind and show how the technology is working toward that goal and not merely maximizing profits.

This article originally appeared in Insider Intelligence's Connectivity & Tech Briefing—a daily recap of top stories reshaping the technology industry. Subscribe to have more hard-hitting takeaways delivered to your inbox daily.