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US billionaire makes biggest donation to Oxford 'since the Renaissance'

Stephen Schwarzman alongside US president Donald Trump in 2017. Photo: Olivier Douliery/ PA Images

The biggest single donation to a UK university has been made to Oxford, to fund research and tackle the social implications of artificial intelligence.

The university unveiled a £150m gift from US private equity billionaire and Trump advisor Stephen Schwarzman on Wednesday.

As the founder of Blackstone financial group (BX) – the largest alternative investment firm in the world – Schwarzman is one of America’s best known billionaires.

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The money will be used to create the Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities, which will include a new Institute for Ethics in AI, as well as performing spaces and a library.

With universities facing uncertainty when it comes to funding due to ongoing Brexit negotiations, this is a major triumph for Oxford.

Schwarzman told the BBC he gave the money to Oxford due to concerns about artificial intelligence.

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"At the moment, most governments are utterly unprepared to deal with this – and why would they be? It's a different type of technology," Schwarzman said.

He added: "They're going to have to rely on great universities like Oxford, and others around the world, who specialise in helping them think this through."

In particular, Schwarzman said universities need to construct an “ethical framework” and responsible implementation for rapidly-occurring changes regarding AI.

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Experts within and outside the field of AI have warned future developments could cause long-term risks, such as job automation, social manipulation, autonomous weapons, invasion of privacy and social grading, discrimination and the creation of a “super-intelligence.”

Earlier this year, Schwartzman made a similar $350m (£279m) donation to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), to establish a centre for AI and computing.

Despite the donation being Oxford’s biggest “since the Renaissance,” unlike most major donors, Schwarzman is not a former student of the university.

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It is "important for people to remember what being human is," Schwarzman told the BBC.

"Why are we here? What are your values? How does technology deal and interact with that.

"We should want it to be positive and productive for society, and technology can't be allowed to just do whatever it wants because it can."