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Oxford shuts down Elon Musk-funded Future of Humanity Institute

The Future of Humanity Institute (FHI) was shut down by the Faculty of Philosophy on April 16th after 19 years of operation.

The Institute was founded in 2005 and was run by Swedish-born philosopher Nick Bostrom, known for his work popularizing the theory that the humanity may be living in a simulation.

The Institute cites “administrative headwinds” from the Faculty of Philosophy as the reason behind its closure.

“Eventually a pressure to conform began bearing down (we were administratively housed within the faculty of philosophy, even though the majority of our research team by this time were non-philosophers), and there was a death by bureaucracy,” said Bostrom, in an emailed statement to The Guardian.

Anders Sandberg, a former Senior Research Fellow at the FHI, claimed the Institute were “affected by a gradual suffocation by Faculty bureaucracy.” The Faculty of Philosophy imposed a freeze on fundraising and hiring in 2020, and decided not to renew the contracts of staff in late 2023, according to the Institute’s final report published on April 12th.

The Institute was dedicated to ‘studying big picture questions for human civilisation’, such as existential risk, anthropic reasoning, and human enhancement. It was closely aligned with effective altruism communities and received £1m of funding from Elon Musk in 2015 to research the threat of Artificial Intelligence.

The FHI website stated that research in the fields where FHI was active may continue to be pursued elsewhere within the University or in external organizations. The Institute’s largest team, the Governance of AI Program, became an independent organisation after “spinning out of the university in 2021 to escape bureaucratic restrictions.”

Bostrom has resigned from the University following the institute’s closure.

“We regularly consider the best structures for conducting our academic research, as part of the University’s governance processes. After such consideration, the decision was made to close the Future of Humanity Institute. The University recognises the Institute’s important contribution to this emerging field, which researchers elsewhere across the University are likely to continue,” said an Oxford spokesperson.

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