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J. Bob Alotta: AI, Philanthropy & Civil Society


In this episode we talk to J. Bob Alotta – SVP, Global Progammes at Mozilla – about what is happening at the intersection of artificial intelligence, philanthropy and civil society.


  • What role can open source approaches play in ensuring that AI is developed in a way that benefits society? What is Mozilla funding in this area, and how much other philanthropic funding is currently focussed on these kinds of initiatives?
  • How optimistic should we be about the potential for developing open source approaches to AI at a time when there is such  huge commercial competition surrounding the technology? What will be required to make this happen?
  • What is the aim of the new $200m Philanthropic Coalition on AI that Mozilla has joined?
  • Why has Mozilla chosen to use the approach of funding individuals through its Fellowship program?
  • What are some of the key opportunities that AI might bring for philanthropy and civil society?
  • How much work is there to be done in terms of getting the datasets required to make philanthropy applications of AI feasible?
  • Is the focus of some philanthropic funders and donors on the perceived existential risks of Artificial General Intelligence a distraction from the more immediate short term challenges the technology poses?
  • What role has Effective Altruism played in making X risks the focus of philanthropic funding for AI research?
  • What should we be focussing on as the most important immediate challenges with AI?
  • Does the current turmoil at OpenAI suggest that trying to combine commercial drivers and philanthropic goals is a real challenge when it comes to the development of AI? Does Mozilla’s own hybrid structure have lessons for how we can do this well?
  • Does the voice of civil society organisations (and the people and communities they serve) get heard enough in current debates about AI?
  • Do CSOs currently have the knowledge and capabilities to engage in these debates? If not, what new support and infrastructure do they need to do so (and what role can philanthropy play in achieving this?)

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