Google Unveils Competition to Develop AI for Social Good

Google launched a global competition, the AI Impact Challenge, to encourage the development of artificial intelligence for positive uses. Revealed at the company’s AI for Social Good event at its Sunnyvale offices, the competition aims to reach out to nonprofits, universities and other groups outside of corporate Silicon Valley, to help solve social issues. The initiative, overseen by Google’s philanthropic arm, Google.org, will award up to $25 million to numerous parties to “help transform the best ideas into action.”

The Verge reports that the competition is aimed more specifically for solutions in environmental science, healthcare, and wildlife conservation; AI is “already used to help pin down the location of whales by tracking and identifying whale sounds, which can then be used to help protect from environmental and wildlife threats,” and can be used “to predict floods and also to identify areas of forest that are especially susceptible to wildfires.”

Google also hopes to eliminate biases in AI, after admitting that its largely white and Asian workforce couldn’t foresee that its photo-tagging algorithm would identify black people as gorillas; only 2.5 percent of Google’s workforce is black.

The initiative was also revealed in the wake of the company’s public pledge that it would not develop AI-powered weapons or AI surveillance projects that violate “internationally accepted norms.” Google also vowed that its R&D would adhere to “widely accepted principles of international law and human rights” and would mainly focus “socially beneficial” programs.

In the past, Google participated in the Department of Defense drone initiative, Project Maven, and had “secret plans to launch a search and algorithmic news product for the Chinese market,” both of which sparked “severe internal backlash, external criticism, and employee resignations.”

Although Google pulled back from Project Maven, it is still “actively exploring a product for the Chinese market” and said it will work with the military. The company is also working on its Google Duplex, a controversial service that “uses AI to mimic a human and make calls on a user’s behalf” and will debut on Pixel devices next month.