The turning point that will significantly shape the future of technology and organized societies has been reached today. In an act of self-governance, the world’s largest technology companies — that hold the keys to some of the largest databases on our planet — have met today to announce the launch of the new partnership on artificial intelligence. 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. And whichever company owns the data, effectively owns AI. So, today, the notorious masters of data (Facebook, Amazon, Alphabet, IBM and Microsoft) have finally reached the conclusion that working together is an option they are going to seriously explore.
The group is tasked with conducting research and promoting best practices. Practically, it means that this 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 will improve 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.
Furthermore, it is assumed that this group of tech giants would implement a form of user data portability across all social profiles and into each other’s AI. Sophisticated companies already have it, and with this project, the genral public will finally have an inside look. And while this step is in the right direction, let’s not overlook the fact that this initiative taken by silicon valley’s giants is going to ensure that all strategic interests are preserved largely.
With John Mannes