Apple joins Partnership on AI to explore "ethical" artificial intelligence

Apple has joined the Partnership on AI, adding its name – and its opinions – to the collaboration on artificial intelligence. Named as a founding member today, Apple joins companies like Microsoft, Google, Amazon, IBM, and Facebook among the Partnership's ranks. Launched back in September 2016, the Partnership on AI was established in an attempt to better understand, and explain, artificial intelligence and the growing role it plays in today's technology.

While initially thought of in broad terms of "super-human" machine intelligences that could beat us at chess while simultaneously solving world hunger, AI in practice has been far more niche but arguably more pervasive in the process. The technology is used from everything from machine learning to spot malware patterns, through photo analysis, to how self-driving vehicles understand the road around them. Though prevalent, it has also led to concerns that AI is neither fully understood nor its consequences prepared for.

There have been some efforts to address that. Last December, the White House announced it had been investigating the potential economic impact of AI in a study of its own. That concluded that there would be greater demand for high-skill jobs, but at the same time a reduction in employment for those in more low-end roles.

Some have been more enthusiastic than others, meanwhile. Back in 2014, Tesla's Elon Musk issued an ominous warning that artificial intelligence was "summoning the devil"; the outspoken billionaire later donated millions to AI research. Tesla, of course, has its own AI-style research underway, as its Autopilot system learns from real-world driving and educates its own algorithms.

For Apple, it's a continuation of a more recent shift into the public eye of its AI endeavors. Only last month did the company give its researchers and employees the green light to share the fruits of their efforts publicly in published papers. That was swiftly followed by the first paper on AI from an Apple researcher, on how such machine intelligences might be taught.

Today, Apple is known to be looking into the use of AI in a number of ways. That includes building out Siri with more smarts, through to on-device photo processing and analysis, to technologies used in the company's mysterious – and evolving – car project. Right now it's still playing its cards close to its chest.

"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." Apple's Tom Gruber, a trustee at the Partnership, said of today's news. "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."

Gruber and the rest of the Board of Trustees will hold their first meeting on February 3, 2017, in San Francisco, the Partnership on AI confirmed today. Shortly after, it says it plans to give more details on exactly what the consortium will do, how others can sign up to it, and what the initial research and activities will be.

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