By Lance Ulanoff.
Four months after its formation, the Partnership on AI, a group dedicated to tackling AI opportunities and challenges finally, officially welcomed Apple as a member.
Tom Gruber, Apple’s head of advanced development for Apple’s digital assistant, Siri, joined the Partnership on AI’s board of Trustees on Friday.
Gruber joins science, research and AI leaders from a disparate group of companies including Google, Amazon, Microsoft, IBM and DeepMind (part of Google), along with leaders from the ACLU, UC Berkeley and the Association for the Advancement of AI.
“We’re glad to see the industry engaging on some of the larger opportunities and concerns created with the advance of machine learning and AI. 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.” said Gruber on the Partnership on AI site.
Apple joins as a founding member, even though it wasn’t a part of the original group announced back in September. That’s because, as the company revealed to me last year, it was already quietly working with the group, though not in an official capacity. That changed on Friday.
It may also be the exact right time for Apple to get involved, since the Partnership on AI hasn’t done much since its formation. Its last update was a public statement in October praising the White House Office of Science and Technology’s report on the future of artificial intelligence, a document now archived as part of the Obama White House website.
At the time, the Partnership on AI applauded the report, adding, “We agree that AI can be a major driver of growth and social progress. Harnessing advances in AI to their fullest potential will involve collaboration by industry, government, and the public on the broader social, legal, and ethical influences of AI.”
Since then, it’s been publicly silent. However, the addition of Apple marks, the group noted in its latest blog post, “a pivotal moment for the Partnership on AI, as we establish a diverse and balanced Board of Trustees that extends and broadens our existing leadership.”
In addition, a Partnership AI representative told me in an email, “In the months since launch, we’ve been working with colleagues and partners from a range of disciplines to start building out a robust and multi-stakeholder organization. We are pleased that we have now been able to deliver on our promise to have a Board with equal representation between the company Trustees and Independent Trustees.”
And the work to make sure AI develops in a useful, safe and fair way may be even more important now. When I spoke to Partnership on AI founding member and Microsoft Research Technical Fellow and Managing Director Eric Horvitz last fall, he explained that the risk of inadvertent bias in AI systems is a real concern.
“Bias in data can get propagated to machine learning that can lead to bias systems,” Horvitz told me last year. It could, he warned, impact “how racial minorities are handled when it comes to visual perception and facial recognition.”
The group had no comment on how the President Donald Trump administration’s approach to science might impact their work.
The very first meeting of the Partnership on AI’s Board of Trustees will take place on Feb. 3 in San Francisco, near where Apple, Facebook and Google are based. After the meeting, a company spokesperson told me, they should announce more details, “including how other people and organizations can participate, as well as the initial program of research and activities.”