The world’s largest technology companies hold the keys to some of the largest databases on our planet. Much like goods and coins before it, data is becoming an important currency for the modern world. The data’s value is rooted in its applications to artificial intelligence. Whichever company owns the data, effectively owns AI. Right now that means companies like Facebook, Amazon, Alphabet, IBM and Microsoft have a ton of power.
In an act of self-governance, these five companies came together today to announce the launch of the new Partnership on AI. The group is tasked with conducting research and promoting best practices. Practically, this means that the group of tech companies will come together frequently to discuss advancements in artificial intelligence. The group also opens up a formal structure for communication across company lines. It’s important to remember that on a day-to-day basis, these teams are in constant competition with each other to develop the best products and services powered by machine intelligence.
Financial support will be coming from the initial tech companies that are members of the group, but in the future, membership and involvement is expected to increase. User activists, nonprofits, ethicists and other stakeholders will be joining the discussion in the coming weeks.
“We want to involve people impacted by AI as well,” said Mustafa Suleyman, co-founder and head of applied AI at DeepMind, a subsidiary of Alphabet.
The organizational structure has been designed to allow non-corporate groups to have equal leadership side-by-side with large tech companies.
As of today’s launch, companies like Apple, Twitter, Intel and Baidu are missing from the group. Though Apple is said to be enthusiastic about the project, their absence is still notable because the company has fallen behind in artificial intelligence when compared to its rivals — many of which are part of this new group.
The new organization really seems to be about promoting change by example. Rather than preach to the tech world, it wants to use a standard open license to publish research on topics, including ethics, inclusivity and privacy.
“The power of AI is in the enterprise sector,” said Francesca Rossi, an AI ethics researcher at IBM Research. “For society at-large to get the benefits of AI, we first have to trust it.”
The focus of the organization is a refreshing juxtaposition to more pop-culture discussions about the risks of artificial intelligence. While the jury is still out as to whether a singularity event could threaten mankind, we already face a long list of challenges in today’s world of AI. While computers are not at a point yet where they can take all of our jobs, they can amplify the negative tendencies that humans already possess. A biased world can result in biased data sets and, in turn, bias artificial intelligence frameworks.
To combat this, companies like Microsoft have already formed AI ethics advisory boards. But, rather than override existing efforts, the new group augments projects already undertaken at individual companies and provides a forum for sharing valuable advice. The group plans to make discussions and minutes from meetings publicly available.