Jeffrey Epstein’s money helped create that creepy robot parodied on ‘Silicon Valley’

By Marcus Baram

One of the most infuriating aspects of the Jeffrey Epstein saga is that he continued to attend Hollywood premieres, make campaign contributions to political candidates, and invest in prestigious scientific research initiatives even after being accused of molesting dozens of girls, being arrested and jailed on prostitution charges, and registering as a sex offender. Harvard University, to which Epstein donated at least $6.5 million in 2006 to launch “a mathematical biology and evolutionary dynamics program,” has long insisted that it’s keeping the money, despite the fact that other schools have returned donations from tainted individuals. For instance, the University of Southern California rejected a $5 million pledge from Harvey Weinstein amid allegations about his sexual misconduct with dozens of women.

Some of Epstein’s donations have been much more recent and seemed to have hardly raised any eyebrows. In 2013, he was described by Forbes as the “financial guru” behind an effort by OpenCog, an ambitious open-source software project, to develop “emotional software” for the gaming industry. Describing the effort as a virtual platform to test the project’s hypothesis about the mind, Epstein told Forbes: “It’s somewhat like building a car, with no instructions, but our impression of what a car can do.” (His website highlighting his investments has been taken offline, but there are some archived pages out there.)

OpenCog’s founder, Ben Goertzel, who has thanked Epstein for his “visionary funding of my AGI research,” teamed up with roboticist David Hanson to create the world’s smartest robot. As Goertzel put it, they were pursuing robots “with basic common sense understanding of the everyday human world.” Sophia, a robot parodied on Silicon Valley a few years ago, is powered by OpenCog’s code, which “lets her respond and react to users’ emotional states.” In an episode of the HBO comedy, an actor with a strong resemblance to Goertzel played Sophia’s creepy creator. Goertzel did not return a request for comment from Fast Company. But Hanson, in a statement, asserted that none of Epstein’s funds “were used towards Sophia or to the benefit of Hanson Robotics,” adding “Dr. Goertzel confirms that none of Epstein’s funds contributed directly or indirectly towards Hanson robots or software.”

Hanson added: “We value the rights and lives of children, and we find the reported allegations disturbing. We hope our robots and research can help make the world a better, safer and more inspiring place for children and all people, opening numerous opportunities for creativity, education, and innovation that enables AI to bring good to all people.”

Other scientists funded by Epstein have vigorously defended him, even as the shocking details of his crimes came to light. When Lawrence Krauss, a famed physicist and the author of The Physics of Star Trek, was asked about Epstein in 2011 by The Daily Beast, these words came out of his brilliant mouth:

Jeffrey has surrounded himself with beautiful women and young women but they’re not as young as the ones that were claimed. As a scientist I always judge things on empirical evidence and he always has women ages 19 to 23 around him, but I’ve never seen anything else, so as a scientist, my presumption is that whatever the problems were I would believe him over other people. . . . I don’t feel tarnished in any way by my relationship with Jeffrey; I feel raised by it.

Krauss, who himself faced allegations of sexual misconduct (which he strongly denies) outlined in a BuzzFeed story last year, returned a request for comment but did not address his statements on Epstein.

Evolutionary psychologist Robert Trivers defended Epstein—who donated $40,000 to the Rutgers scientist to study the link between knee symmetry and sprinting ability—by telling Reuters in 2015: “By the time [girls are] 14 or 15, they’re like grown women were 60 years ago, so I don’t see these acts as so heinous.”

Earlier this week, in the wake of the new arrest of Epstein, Trivers tweeted an apology for his earlier remarks, calling them “stupid and offensive.”

This story has been updated to include a statement from David Hanson, explaining that none of Epstein’s funding was used in the development of Hanson robots or software.


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