The 50 people on The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s annual list of the biggest U.S. donors collectively gave some $7.8 billion to charity in 2018.
The Chronicle reported that last year’s total was about half the $14.7 billion the top 50 donors in 2017 gave. Even so, it was much more that the $5.6 billion given in 2016 and the $7 billion contributed in 2015.
The report said it was uncertain whether the reduced giving reflected a greater sense of caution among donors about the state of the world. What was clear from the nature of those gifts, it said, was philanthropists’ concern about the future.
Several donors on the list focused their philanthropy on artificial intelligence. These donors and others are looking to quicken the pace of discoveries that might otherwise be decades away, Robert Kissane, chairman of the consulting firm CCS Fundraising, told The Chronicle.
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Last year, Stephen Schwarzman, a private equity manager, donated $350 million to MIT for a computing college with a focus on AI, and the entrepreneur Amin Khoury gave Northwestern University $50 million for a similar project. The late Paul Allen, Microsoft’s co-founder, gave $125 million to his own Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence.
AI is also raising concerns among some proponents, according to The Chronicle. It said Schwarzman, for one, wants to see better analysis of AI before it is released on the world, worrying that rogue states could use quantum computing to hack into encrypted data used by banks and the federal government.
Several tech billionaires on the top 50 list are concerned about the privacy of individual data collected by digital products, such as Facebook and text messaging.