A group of some of the most powerful technology companies on the planet have formed a partnership on artificial intelligence.
Google, Facebook, Amazon, IBM and Microsoft announced on Wednesday the launch of The Partnership on Artificial Intelligence to Benefit People and Society.
They plan to help more people understand what artificial intelligence is all about, develop industry standards, and work to ensure that government officials who will craft laws about AI have a basic comprehension of what it is.
Notably absent from the mix were Apple, and OpenAI, Elon Musk's AI research operation.
From the Guardian:
Going by the unwieldy name of the Partnership on Artificial Intelligence to Benefit People and Society, the alliance isn't a lobbying organisation (at least, it says it "does not intend" to lobby government bodies). Instead, it says it will "conduct research, recommend best practices, and publish research under an open license in areas such as ethics, fairness and inclusivity; transparency, privacy, and interoperability; collaboration between people and AI systems; and the trustworthiness, reliability and robustness of the technology".
There will be equal representation between corporate and non-corporate members on the board of the partnership, and it hopes to invite "academics, non-profits and specialists in policy and ethics" to join.
Each of the five founding corporate members has strong AI research teams, some of which have become household names, such as IBM's Watson and Amazon's Alexa. Google's involvement with the body is explicitly through its London-based DeepMind subsidiary, a pure research organisation that hit headlines in March when it built the first ever machine to beat a world-class human player of the ancient Asian board game Go.
John Markoff at the New York Times writes that the point is "to set the ground rules for protecting humans — and their jobs — in the face of rapid advances in artificial intelligence."
Markoff says the alliance is an "effort to ease public fears of machines that are learning to think for themselves and perhaps ease corporate anxiety over the prospect of government regulation of this new technology."
The group released eight tenets that are evocative of Isaac Asimov's original "Three Laws of Robotics," which appeared in a science fiction story in 1942. The new principles include high-level ideals such as, "We will seek to ensure that A.I. technologies benefit and empower as many people as possible."
Nevertheless, at least one of the tenets implies that the companies realize they could be drawn into sticky ethical situations, and it calls on engineers to oppose the use of artificial intelligence technology in weapons or other tools that could be used to violate human rights.
"With the hyperbole about A.I. over the last two to four years, there have been concerns in an echo chamber of anxiety that the government itself will be misinformed," said Eric Horvitz, managing director for Microsoft Research.
The organization's reps told reporters on a call Wednesday that they're talking with other companies including Apple and OpenAI about participating.
"That such fierce rivals would come together in this way shows how important the companies feel it is to head off public concern and speculation over the potential impacts of AI," wrote MIT Tech Review's Will Knight.
PHOTO: A humanoid robot operates a switchboard during a demonstration by the German research centre for artificial intelligence, Hanover, Germany. March, 5, 2013. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch.