Amazon, Google’s London-based Deep Mind arm, Facebook, IBM and Microsoft on Wednesday announced they will jointly create the Partnership on Artificial Intelligence to Benefit People and Society, a nonprofit organization to advance public understanding of artificial intelligence technologies (AI) and shape AI best practices.
The project, already nicknamed by the group as “Partnership on AI,” will tap the expertise of academics, nonprofits and specialists in policy and ethics, according to a press release. Those experts will conduct research, recommend best practices and publish findings under an open license in such areas as ethics, fairness and inclusivity; transparency, privacy and interoperability; collaboration between people and AI systems; and the trustworthiness, reliability and robustness of the technology.
Notably absent from the new partnership are tech powerhouses like Apple Inc. and OpenAI, an artificial intelligence research firm led by PayPal/Tesla founder Elon Musk, who just this week announced plans to get humans to Mars within six years.
Artificial intelligence is a fast-moving technology field, with heaps of ethical concerns ranging from the more basic questions about privacy to broader philosophical implications for empathy, human dignity and the very nature of human existence.
All of the founders of this new group have incentives to develop AI to further their commercial efforts: Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos recently threw his support behind AI, announcing "It's hard to overstate how big of an impact it's going to have on society over the next 20 years.” Amazon’s AI-based Alexa voice assistant platform is playing a growing role across its platform (owners of the Alexa-powered Amazon Echo spend around 10% more on Amazon in the six months after they bought the voice-controlled speaker than before they had the device), and the company recently hired a new director of AI from rival eBay.
The new Partnership on Artificial Intelligence to Benefit People and Society appears to be a check against the way market-based motivations could overwhelm real concerns about AI’s broader effect on human beings.
“AI technologies hold tremendous potential to improve many aspects of life, ranging from healthcare, education, and manufacturing to home automation and transportation,” the group said in a statement announcing the venture. “Through rigorous research, the development of best practices, and an open and transparent dialogue, the founding members of the Partnership on AI hope to maximize this potential and ensure it benefits as many people as possible.”
Murray Shanahan, a professor of cognitive robotics at Imperial College London, welcomed the move. “A small number of large corporations are today the powerhouses behind the development of sophisticated artificial intelligence,” Shanahan told The Guardian. “The inauguration of the partnership on AI is a very welcome step towards ensuring this technology is used wisely.”