Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to transform the world for the better, according to Mustafa Suleyman, co-founder of Google-owned DeepMind, but it needs to be developed in a "thoughtful, positive and ethical way." That’s why some of the top U.S. tech firms announced yesterday that they’re creating a new nonprofit organization called the Partnership on Artificial Intelligence to Benefit People and Society.
In addition to Suleyman, the partnership’s founding members include Amazon’s director of machine learning Ralf Herbrich, Google Research senior scientist Greg Corrado, Facebook director of AI research Yan Lecun, IBM research scientist Francesca Rossi and Microsoft’s Eric Horvitz, who’s managing director of that company’s Washington research lab.
The partnership is being created to advance public understanding of AI technologies, recommend best practices and publish research in areas such as ethics, transparency, privacy, interoperability and trustworthiness, according to a joint announcement from the companies. The new organization plans to work with other professional and scientific groups, but "does not intend to lobby government or other policymaking bodies."
A ‘Vital Voice’ in Advancing AI
All the companies founding the new partnership have been working intensively on their own to develop AI technologies, although Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is also among a handful of prominent people who have expressed concerns about artificial intelligence.
"I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence," Gates said in a 2015 Ask-Me-Anything session on Reddit. "First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern."
Tesla/SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, who has also voiced concerns about AI even as his companies work to develop it, is notably absent from the new AI partnership, as is Apple and its CEO Tim Cook.
"This partnership will provide consumer and industrial users of cognitive systems a vital voice in the advancement of the defining technology of this century — one that will foster collaboration between people and machines to solve some of the world’s most enduring problems — in a way that is both trustworthy and beneficial," IBM’s Rossi said in a statement.
"When we formed the Facebook AI Research group nearly three years ago, we made the conscious choice to work in the open — which means we publish our work and often open source state-of-the-art code like SharpMask," Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer noted yesterday in a post on his Facebook page. "We believe that sharing our ideas and findings with the community will advance the state of the art much faster."
Democratization or ‘Foxes in Henhouse’?
In a tweet early this morning, James Barrat. author of the 2013 book, "Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era," responded to news of the AI partnership with the question: "Foxes in the henhouse?"
All the companies in the partnership have announced significant developments in artificial intelligence over the past year. This spring, for instance, Google’s machine intelligence AlphaGo bested South Korea’s professional Go player Lee Sedol in a five-round match, while both Microsoft and Facebook rolled out intelligent bots for automated customer assistance.
The technology, however, has also suffered dramatic public setbacks, as when Microsoft’s millenial chatbot "Tay" — with training from online trolls — quickly began spouting hateful and racist comments on Twitter and was soon put on ice soon.
In other AI news, at its Ignite conference today, Microsoft announced the launch of a new artificial intelligence research group to be led by computer vision expert and Microsoft Research veteran Harry Shum.
"I’ve worked on both research and product teams, and I see incredible potential for this new group," Shum wrote today in a blog post. "Today marks the next step in our journey to democratize AI for the world. As [Microsoft CEO] Satya Nadella said, ‘We are pursuing AI so that we can empower every person and every organization with tools they can use to go solve the most pressing challenges of our society and our economy.’"
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