Baidu becomes first Chinese firm to join US-based group that addresses the ethics of AI

The Partnership on AI is led by researchers representing, Google, DeepMind Technologies, Facebook, Microsoft, IBM and Apple

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 October, 2018, 8:03am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 October, 2018, 12:01pm

Baidu, operator of China’s largest internet search service and a national champion in artificial intelligence, has become the first Chinese company to join a US-based consortium that studies and formulates best practices on AI technologies.

The Partnership on AI (PAI), which now counts more than 70 members, was established in 2016 in the wake of growing concerns over the impact of AI on industries as well as people and the larger society.

“Admitting our first Chinese member is an important step towards building a truly global partnership,” said Terah Lyons, the founding executive director of the PAI, in a statement released on Tuesday in the US.

Headquartered in San Francisco, the PAI was formed by, Facebook, IBM, Microsoft, and Alphabet’s Google and DeepMind Technologies to advance public understanding of AI technologies.

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The non-profit organisation is currently led by a group of AI researchers representing those six founding companies and Apple.

It credited Baidu with “vigorously promoting the development of AI technology”, while pushing forward a series of initiatives “aimed at limiting AI’s unintended consequences”.

Nasdaq-listed Baidu, which started its AI investments about seven years ago, has been stepping up its efforts to bring AI into cars, homes and enterprises in China. Its main AI products are open-source autonomous driving platform Apollo, AI operating system DuerOS and the ABC-Stack hybrid cloud platform for deploying AI into businesses.

“Ensuring AI’s safety, fairness and transparency should not be an afterthought, but rather highly considered at the onset of every project or system we build,” said Baidu president Zhang Yaqin in the statement. “The impact of a transformative technology like AI goes beyond borders, so we are looking forward to both sharing our own insights and learning from our international peers.”

AI, comprising technologies which perform tasks that are characteristic of human intelligence, such as understanding language and recognising objects and sounds, has been a contentious subject, with hi-tech industry leaders like Elon Musk warning of technology running amok and governments studying the potential disruptive impact on jobs.

Admitting our first Chinese member is an important step towards building a truly global partnership
Terah Lyons, executive director of the Partnership on AI

Others argue that AI will raise productivity and free up labour to pursue higher-value work, especially pertinent for developed economies with ageing populations. China has made the pursuit of AI a national priority, setting out to build a domestic AI industry worth about US$150 billion and to make the country a global leader by 2030.

China’s AI industry has so far attracted the most funding in the world, accounting for 60 per cent of all global investment from 2013 to the first quarter of 2018, but still lags behind the US in terms of AI talent, according to a study released in July by Tsinghua University.

China, however, has recently tried to play down a head-to-head confrontation with the US over AI, as the trade war between the world’s two largest economies has escalated.

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Amid that dispute, the PAI said it was looking to add new members from China, following the participation of Baidu.

“The growth and scope of work on AI in China is extensive,” said Lyons, a former adviser to the US Chief Technology Officer in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. “Any conversation about the future of AI that does not involve China is an incomplete conversation.”