This article is published in the November 2016 issue.

World’s Largest Technology Companies Create Historic Partnership on AI

Partnership on AI LogoThis is a guest blog post by Greg HagerComputing Community Consortium (CCC) Past Chair and Professor in the Department of Computer Science at Johns Hopkins University, with contributions from Eric Horvitz the Technical Fellow & Managing Director at Microsoft Research and a past president of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI).

In a recent blog post, we summarized the report of an academic/industry roundtable, which, among other recommendations, advocated for mechanisms to support long-term, strategic, and sustained conversation between academics and industry representatives.

Recently, one such mechanism came into being with the announcement of the Partnership on AI by a consortium consisting of Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Facebook, and IBM. From the press release:

The objective of the Partnership on AI is to address opportunities and challenges with AI technologies to benefit people and society. Together, the organization’s members 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.

With the recent high level of interest in (and concerns about) AI, this step could not have come at a more opportune moment. The Partnership on AI represents a bold and innovative step by major industry leaders to engage the computing research community in an open discussion about avenues for AI to have a positive impact in society. It is exactly the sort of mechanism that is needed to better connect long-term fundamental research to the many innovations that will transform transportation, healthcare, education, science, and many other national priorities. Responses by the community to the announcement (including the Computing Community Consortium (CCC)) can be found here.

Eric Horvitz, a past CCC Council member and current CCC Artificial Intelligence Task Force Co-Chair, from Microsoft said the following regarding the new partnership.

We’re excited about this historic collaboration on AI and its influences on people and society. We see great value ahead with harnessing AI advances in numerous areas, including health, education, transportation, public welfare, and personal empowerment. We’re extremely pleased with how early discussions among colleagues blossomed into a promising long-term collaboration.

This new organization complements other recent efforts to engage the community in a broader conversation about the implications of AI research, including the release of the inaugural AI-100 study, a series of workshops on issues and opportunities related to AI, and the release by OSTP of responses to a recent RFI.

The vision and leadership that created the Partnership on AI could have an even larger impact, should this model become a template that is adopted by other industry sectors. With the exception of the Semiconductor Research Corporation, a consortium created to pool resources and facilitate research on semiconductor innovations, no other industry sector has ever taken such a step.

What might the impact of such models be for academic computing research? To offer one perspective, the most recent Taulbee report found that only about 10% of computing research funding comes from industry, a number that has remained nearly constant for over a decade. Yet, during that same time period, the tech industry grew to have five companies (including four of the new partnership members) in the list of top 10 companies by market capitalization.

The Partnership on AI offers a promising new path to leverage this success. By providing a clear agenda to the research community, and new resources to attack the most important and relevant problems, it increases both the support for, and relevance of, academic computing research. Over the long term, the new collaborations sparked by the Partnership on AI will lead to new innovations that will benefit its partners, the computing research community, and society as a whole.