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Musk, other tech chiefs back artificial intelligence startup with US$1 billion

Elon Musk, Chairman of SolarCity and CEO of Tesla Motors.

[SAN FRANCISCO] Some of the most prominent executives in the technology industry, including Tesla Motors Inc CEO Elon Musk, are backing a non-profit artificial intelligence research company with funding of US$1 billion.

The effort announced on Friday, known as OpenAI, joins a number of other initiatives by prominent companies like Google, Apple and IBM to tap advanced computer technology to solve problems such as recognizing faces or translating languages. "Our goal is to advance digital intelligence in the way that is most likely to benefit humanity as a whole, unconstrained by a need to generate financial return," a blog post on OpenAI's website said.

Predicting that human-level artificial intelligence will eventually arrive, the backers argued that it was vital to have a research institution like OpenAI in place to seek "a good outcome for all over its own self-interest." Musk has been critical of the possible harm from artificial intelligence, telling Massachusetts Institute of Technology students that "If I had to guess at what our biggest existential threat is, it's probably that," according to a report in the Guardian.

He will be co-chair of the non-profit with technology venture capitalist Sam Altman, who has backed Reddit.

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OpenAI's list of donors include PayPal Holding Inc co-founder Peter Thiel, LinkedIn Corp co-founder Reid Hoffman and Musk himself.

The venture's research director is Ilya Sutskever, a former research scientist at Google, and its chief technology officer is Greg Brockman.

While the backers have ponied up a vast sum, OpenAI said it expects to spend a "tiny fraction" of the US$1 billion in the next few years.

Other backers include Inc's cloud unit Amazon Web Services, Indian IT giant Infosys and Greg Brockman, former chief technology officer of payments startup Stripe.