Is this AI's LEAST likely cheerleader? Blackstone's 77-year-old Republican ... trends now

Is this AI's LEAST likely cheerleader? Blackstone's 77-year-old Republican ... trends now
Is this AI's LEAST likely cheerleader? Blackstone's 77-year-old Republican ... trends now

Is this AI's LEAST likely cheerleader? Blackstone's 77-year-old Republican ... trends now

When you think of leaders in artificial intelligence, you probably picture sneaker-wearing, baby-faced Silicon Valley-types like Mark Zuckerberg and Sam Altman.

But one of the the biggest funders of AI is 77-year-old Blackstone CEO and Republican megadonor Steve Schwarzman - who says his favorite app is 'email.'

Schwarzman, who was still using a basic flip phone at the time, became enamored with AI in 2015, when the co-founder of Alibaba told him that AI is the wave of the future and would change job functions, drug development and education.

Since then, Schwarzman has invested more than $500 million dollars in the advancement of AI and has donated millions of dollars to Yale University to establish a center for AI advancements and to create the University of Oxford's Institute for Ethics in AI.

Steve Schwarzman has invested billions of dollars in AI technology, but still says his favorite app is email

Steve Schwarzman has invested billions of dollars in AI technology, but still says his favorite app is email

Steve Schwarzman had a brief stint in the U.S. Army Reserve in 1970 before he headed to Harvard Business School

Steve Schwarzman had a brief stint in the U.S. Army Reserve in 1970 before he headed to Harvard Business School

In the midst of concerns over an AI takeover, Schwarzman, who is worth $37.8 billion, is now working to promote AI and reassure the public that the technology is meant to assist with daily tasks, not to replace humans. 

Schwarzman was in China trying to raise money for his Schwarzman Scholars program - a fully funded, one-year master's degree and leadership program at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China - when he chanced an encounter with Jack Ma, the co-founder of ecommerce giant Alibaba.

The pair spent 90 minutes discussing the topic while on a bus to Beijing, when Ma told him that the effects of AI was 'going to be astonishing.'

'There's a lot of bad stuff that could happen, like huge unemployment as you replace people with machines,' Ma told Schwarzman, Forbes reported.

When Schwarzman returned to the U.S., he met with then-MIT President L. Rafael Reif and asked him why AI hadn't taken off in the U.S. when China's AI development was already well under way.

'I discussed with him the risk element, and the fact that the U.S. was falling behind, just because we haven't invested enough money compared to China,' Schwarzman told the outlet.

'It's not just AI. There are other technologies that have big security issues. Quantum [computing], for example, has the ability to break all encryption. Imagine a world where somebody can destroy your banking system and destroy your electric grid and take control of your nuclear codes. 

'This whole computer science revolution has a lot of issues.' 

Reif told him computers weren't powerful enough yet to adopt AI technology, but that they were working to rapidly catch up.

'I was concerned that the U.S. was falling behind on the most promising new technology in generations,' Schwarzman told The Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile, Schwarzman was also building what is today's leading investment firm, Blackstone, and Reif would frequently visit his Park Avenue office to discuss his plans to introduce AI at MIT.

Reif said he planned to hire twice as many MIT faculty and professors with experience in computing, biology, and business who also used AI to assist with their research.

Schwarzman was taken with the idea and donated $350 million of the $1.2 billion needed to fund the program.

Yet despite

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