Apple joins research group for ethical AI with fellow tech giants

As artificial intelligence becomes an increasingly powerful force, some of the world’s biggest companies are worrying about how the technology will be used ethically, and how the public will perceive its spread. To combat these problems (among others), five tech companies — Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, and IBM — set up a research group called the Partnership on AI. Today, Apple has joined their ranks along with six new trustees from corporate and nonprofits, cementing the Partnership’s position as the foremost industry AI research group.

“This is a pivotal moment for the Partnership on AI, as we establish a diverse and balanced Board of Trustees that extends and broadens our existing leadership,” said the Partnership in a blog post.

Despite not being part of the group’s announcement last year, Apple is joining the Partnership as a founding member. This is because the iPhone maker has been “involved and collaborating with the Partnership since before it was first announced.” New trustees joining include Dario Amodei of OpenAI — another industry AI research group founded by Elon Musk and Y Combinator president Sam Altman — and Carol Rose of the ACLU.

Speaking in a conference call last year, DeepMind co-founder Mustafa Suleyman (and co-chair of the group) said the Partnership is committed to an open dialogue about the ethics of AI. “The reason we all work on AI is because we passionately believe its ability to transform our world,” said Suleyman. “The positive impact of AI will depend not only on the quality of our algorithms, but the on the amount of public discussion … to ensure AI is understood by and benefits as many people as possible.”

The extent of Apple’s AI research has previously been kept quite secret. As the topic became more prominent last year, though, with achievement’s like DeepMind’s Go victory, the company has been opening up a little bit more. It gave some press access to its machine learning division, made AI a bigger part of its product events, and, in December last year, published its first research paper.

But while companies have been announcing AI research breakthroughs and slipping the technology into consumer products like photo tagging, the true impact of artificial intelligence on society is going to be far more dramatic and harder to manage. AI taking white collar jobs, eroding trust in public media, becoming embedded in public institutions like the courts and hospitals: these are the sorts of problems facing the industry in the future.

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