(Image credits: ThinkGrow)

AI for good vs AI for evil

Andreas Sandre
Nov 1, 2018 · 4 min read

Artificial intelligence and machine learning represent one of the most exciting trends in technology: virtual assistants, autonomous cars, self-learning algorithms. These are challenges many tech companies and startups at looking at to push innovation forward. But the number of AI critics is multiplying as these technologies have also a dark side.

There is plenty of concern about the repercussions of AI on society and human activity. Trust is also a big issue as some believe that the recent rush towards AI may suggest that we are turning over the keys of reason to machines.

However, companies like Google, Microsoft, and Amazon are now exploring ways to tap into AI for social good and humanitarian projects and aid.

Google is the latest to enter this space of what some refers to as AI for good. The company has recently announced its AI Impact Challenge to grant about $25 million globally in 2019 to humanitarian and environmental projects seeking to use artificial intelligence to speed up and grow their efforts. The goal is to

Reuters pointed out that “Focusing on humanitarian projects could aid Google in recruiting and soothe critics by demonstrating that its interests in machine learning extend beyond its core business and other lucrative areas, such as military work.”

Earlier this year, following a harsh and public employee backlash, Google announced that it would not renew a deal to analyze US military drone footage in a AI-based program.

Google AI Chief Operating Officer Irina Kofman told Reuters the new AI for good program was not a reaction to what happened earlier this year, but noted that thousands of employees are eager to work on “social good” projects despite the fact that those programs often do not directly generate revenue.

Microsoft, on the other hand, just silently announced that it would sell the US military and intelligence agencies whatever advanced technologies they needed “to build a strong defense,” including its machine learning and AI tools.

“We want the people of this country and especially the people who serve this country to know that we at Microsoft have their backs,” wrote Brad Smith, Microsoft President, in a blog post. “They will have access to the best technology that we create. At the same time, we appreciate that technology is creating new ethical and policy issues that the country needs to address in a thoughtful and wise manner. That’s why it’s important that we engage as a company in the public dialogue on these issues.”

The counter the mounting criticism, Microsoft has recently launched a series of new AI programs, totaling $115 million, including AI for Earth, its new project to put AI to work for the future of our planet, and AI for Humanitarian Action, a new $40 million, five-year program to harness the power of AI to focus on four priorities — helping the world recover from disasters, addressing the needs of children, protecting refugees and displaced people, and promoting respect for human rights.

AI for good programs are not new, as shows the Partnership on Artificial Intelligence to Benefit People and Society, founded in 2016 by Eric Horvitz, former head of Microsoft Research, Director of Microsoft Research Labs, and Mustafa Suleyman, co-founder of DeepMind.

The initial partners of this initiative were Amazon, Facebook, Google, DeepMind, IBM, and Microsoft. Subsequent waves of outreach added several other organizations, including Salesforce, AINOW, AI4All, AAAI, and the ACLU, as well as many other leading NGOs and technology firms.

The goal is to establish best practices for the pursuit of AI, although some say the focus, at least initially, was on the industrial side of AI, hinting that the partnership could potentially shape up into a trade association for AI, or into a meta-technical organization aimed to publish specifications and standards.

Government agencies, international organizations, and international regulatory agencies are notably absent from the partnership.

AI was also a focus area for the last two chairmanships of the G7, Italy and Canada.

“Artificial intelligence (“AI”) represents a set of complex and powerful technologies that will touch or transform every sector and every industry and will help society address some of our most challenging problems,” reads a note posted on the website of G7 Canada. “Moreover, the productivity gains from AI technologies are expected to be substantial. Innovations in AI technologies have the potential to introduce new sources of economic growth especially in countries struggling with an aging population or economies highly dependent on traditional levers of production, including by helping overcome hurdles to full participation in the workforce and in our societies.

The note ints out that “Realizing the broad potential of AI technologies will require thoughtful investments in entrepreneurialism, education, and the labour market to promote relevant skills and knowledge to participate in jobs of the future and to adapt to changes in demand for skills.”

At the G7 ICT and Industry Minister’s Meeting in Torino, Italy, under the G7 Italian Presidency in 2017, Ministers of G7 countries expressed a vision of human-centric AI for innovation and economic growth.

Digital Diplomacy

Technology, digital, and innovation in government and foreign policy

Andreas Sandre

Written by

Comms + policy. Author of #digitaldiplomacy (2015), Twitter for Diplomats (2013). My views here.

Digital Diplomacy

Technology, digital, and innovation in government and foreign policy