Apple’s Siri chief joins Partnership on A.I. board

Company hopes to evangelize consumer privacy and security in A.I.

Following speculation of its plans yesterday, Apple this morning has confirmed it has joined the Partnership on A.I., with the company’s head of advanced development of Siri, Tom Gruber, taking a seat on that organization’s board.

Security and standards

“We’re glad to see the industry engaging on some of the larger opportunities and concerns created with the advance of machine learning and A.I.,” Gruber says in a statement online. “We believe it’s beneficial to Apple, our customers, and the industry to play an active role in its development and look forward to collaborating with the group to help drive discussion on how to advance AI while protecting the privacy and security of consumers.”

The focus on privacy and security in an increasingly connected age looks very unlikely to be a solo mission for Apple.

The organization today also announced six new independent board members, who include Carol Rose from the American Civil Liberties Union.

Other newly announced board members include:

  • Dario Amodei (OpenAI),
  • Subbarao Kambhampati (Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence & ASU),
  • Deirdre Mulligan (UC Berkeley),
  • Eric Sears (MacArthur Foundation).
  • Jason Furman (Peterson Institute of International Economics).

The new board members join Gruber, alongside reps from Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook and IBM. Board members share equal voting rights and the board seeks to reach a balance between corporate and not-for-profit organizations as it works for ways A.I. can “benefit people and society”.

Apple involved since the start

Despite all the blather from some quarters claiming Apple has not been immersing itself in artificial intelligence research, it seems pretty clear that it has.

The Partnership this morning states Apple, “has been involved and collaborating with the Partnership since before it was first announced and is thrilled to formalize its membership alongside Amazon, Facebook, Google/DeepMind, IBM, and Microsoft.”

As well as announcing the new board members, the Partnership also revealed that its first full board meeting will take place February 3. 

“We expect to announce more details sometime shortly after this meeting, including how other people and organizations can participate and join the Partnership, as well as the initial program of research and activities,” the organisation said.

Collaboration is critical

As I wrote yesterday, when dealing with technology as potentially disruptive as A.I. it is essential all stakeholders reach some key agreements to guide their future work.

Think about employment:

We know A.I. will impact employment. Gartner has previously predicted smart robots will take up to a third of existing, mainly unskilled, jobs by 2025. (It won’t just be unskilled jobs – do you need an accountant when a robot can file your tax return for you?).

We know governments are unready to manage the societal impact of putting one-third of the population out of work, let alone the potential of this to devastate communities and disrupt family life.

While new jobs will certainly be created, how many of them will be created? How will those which are created be distributed? How can soon-to-be-ex-employees secure the help they need to retrain, or even to relocate, for those new opportunities?

Answers to these questions have not been reached, but this transformation is happening right here, right now. 

These factors, along with the need to protect individuals against repressive surveillance, the need to ensure high levels of security between connected industrial and utility systems, and the need to ensure all the various flavors of A.I. work together underpins the need for groups like the Partnership.

That’s even before you begin to address the ethical considerations of A.I.. Who is responsible if a safety robot kills a human to protect whatever it is it thinks it should be protecting?

Apple’s decision to work with its competitors on these matters reflects how deeply all parties understand the profound digital transformation unleashed by A.I. will absolutely dwarf that we have seen through the impact of mobile. Mobile was merely a torch; A.I. is a forest fire, and needs to be directed with precision for best results.

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Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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