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Elon Musk's $1 billion nonprofit wants to build a robot to do housework


elon musk robots

Elon Musk has built cars and rockets. Next up: domestic robots. 

OpenAI — the artificial intelligence research nonprofit co-chaired by Tesla Motors CEO Musk and Y Combinator President Sam Altman— wants to build a robot for your home.


Building a robot, OpenAI's leadership explains in a blog entry on Monday, is a good way to test and refine a machine's ability to learn how to perform common tasks. By "build," OpenAI means taking a current off-the-shelf robot and customizing it to do housework.

"More generally, robotics is a good testbed for many challenges in AI," says the blog entry.

The mission of OpenAI is to research AI and other machine learning technologies with an eye towards making sure the robots don't one day go rogue and destroy humanity.

When OpenAI launched in December 2015, it secured $1 billion in funding from a who's who in tech, including Altman and Musk as well as Silicon Valley luminaries like Jessica Livingston and PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel.

Apart from robotics, OpenAI says that its other big ambitions are around chatbots, or "intelligent agents" that can talk to you in plain natural speech. You know, kind of like on Facebook Messenger

One of OpenAI's goals is to build a chatbot agent that can go beyond simple tasks like looking up movie times or doing simple translation tasks, and up to holding a conversation or truly understanding a document or even the ability to ask clarifying questions if it doesn't understand something.

Sam Altman

OpenAI also says that it's been inspired by the work of Google's DeepMind, which beat world champions at the game of Go. To that end, OpenAI wants to build intelligent agents that can conquer games.

"Games are virtual mini-worlds that are very diverse, and learning to play games quickly and well will require significant advances in generative models and reinforcement learning," OpenAI writes.

And while this isn't as flashy as the others, OpenAI says that its first priority is to measure its success with a common set of criteria that can be applied to all of these robots and chatbot agents. OpenAI says that it's working on a "living metric" to measure intelligence, no matter what kind of test the AI is undergoing.

Both Musk and Altman are wary of the power of artificial intelligence. Musk, in particular, thinks that sci-fi visions of a world overrun by robots are actually within reason, while serial investor Altman once said that "AI will probably most likely lead to the end of the world, but in the meantime, there'll be great companies."

As a nonprofit, OpenAI isn't committed to releasing commercial products soon, if ever. Still, with this many entrepreneurial types behind it, it would be more surprising if, say, Tesla didn't end up taking some OpenAI robot designs and building them for real. 

SEE ALSO: HBO's 'Silicon Valley' nailed something that lots of real-life tech startups get wrong

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