The University of Toronto has received a $2.45-million donation to establish a Chairperson to study how the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) will affect humankind. The donation was financed by Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn and a partner at Greylock, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm.

Hoffman’s professional background began in 1998 when he joined as a founding director of PayPal. He became the organizations chief operations officer two years later. Hoffman went on to co-found LinkedIn in 2002, which merged with Microsoft in 2016 for $26.2 billion. Coupled with his roles at LinkedIn and Greylock, Hoffman has authored two bestselling business books, with a third—Blitzscaling: The Lightning-Fast Path to Building Massively Valuable Companies—released this October.

As a philanthropist, Hoffman has financed the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a company dedicated to eradicating disease, and OpenAI, a non-profit seeking to ensure the rise of digital intelligence benefits humanity.

Brian Cantwell Smith, Professor of Information, Philosophy, and Cognitive Science, has been appointed to the Reid Hoffman Chair in Artificial Intelligence and the Human at U of T’s Faculty of Information, also known as iSchool.

Hoffman, who earned a Bachelor of Science at Stanford University and a Master of Studies degree in philosophy from Oxford, was a student in one of Professor Smith’s courses in 1989.

Smith centered his proposal for the chair on conducting foundational research on the practical effects of AI on society. However, it raises deep questions about what AI is, the difference between human and artificial intelligence, and how the development of AI could affect our self-understanding as humans.

Speaking to U of T News, Professor Wendy Duff commended the appointment.

“I could not be more thrilled that someone with Reid Hoffman’s tremendous vision and influence has chosen the Faculty of Information as a natural home for answering broad questions about life in the age of AI. The work of the chair fits perfectly with the faculty’s academic mission and its multidisciplinary approach to information.”

In an interview with The Korea Herald, U of T President Meric Gertler expressed that the development and integration of artificial intelligence has only recently begun taking root.

“There’s no question that topics like data science and machine learning could find their way into undergraduate curriculums increasingly,” he said. “The history of technological development shows that the very forces that disrupt the economy also create new employment opportunities and whole new industries that we can’t predict.”

Gertler explained further that the advent of the Reid Hoffman Chair represented one of many pursuits undertaken by the University of Toronto to establish itself in AI research and development. Gertler pointed to the Samsung Electronics Artificial Intelligence Center at the university and recent partnerships with LG Electronics and Huawei as other examples of the University’s growing commitment to explore machine learning and AI.

The Medium previously reported that UTM has recruited three new faculty members to support the potential development of a new Robotics Cluster. UTM Principal Ulrich Krull explained that the university laboratory building, if proposed and approved, would offer research space primarily focused on machine learning.

The Reid Hoffman Chair in Artificial Intelligence and the Human opened this fall and will continue to operate through the spring semester of 2024. During this time, the Chair will support extensive research into related questions surrounding AI. Professor Smith will give a public lecture on artificial intelligence each year.

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