Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft join forces to push AI

No, these companies aren't going to take over the world (quite yet). They want to educate the public about the benefits of artificial intelligence.

Ben Fox Rubin Former senior reporter
Ben Fox Rubin was a senior reporter for CNET News in Manhattan, reporting on Amazon, e-commerce and mobile payments. He previously worked as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and got his start at newspapers in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Ben Fox Rubin
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We're heee-ere!

Katie Collins/CNET

You may not have noticed, but artificial intelligence has already arrived.

AI systems are used today to identify your friends' faces in Facebook photos, cue up recommended videos on YouTube and help your Siri voice assistant talk.

Hoping to build on these uses, Amazon, Google, Facebook, IBM, and Microsoft said Wednesday they've created a new group called the Partnership on Artificial Intelligence to Benefit People and Society. The nonprofit's primary missions include researching AI, creating guidelines in developing new AI tech and advancing the public's understanding of AI -- perhaps helping allay fears that robots may want to kill us or take our jobs (or both).

The Partnership on AI isn't intended as a lobbying group. Its board will include people from the corporate world, as well as academics and specialists in policy and ethics.

The new group points to how significant artificial intelligence has become to major tech companies as they look to deep learning and other technologies to increase the smarts of their devices and software. The value of AI should keep growing as more applications find their way out of academia and into commercial use. But there's still a long way to go to make AI more intelligent and useful, and that's likely why all these companies -- which are usually competitors -- came together.

Notably absent from the group is Apple. Additional partners in the group should be announced in the "near future," the group said Wednesday.

Microsoft's Eric Horvitz, an interim co-chairman for the new partnership, told The Guardian: "We've been in discussions with Apple, I know they're enthusiastic about this effort, and I'd personally hope to see them join."

Apple didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Separately, Microsoft said Thursday it has created its the Microsoft AI and Research Group, bringing together 5,000 computer scientists and engineers to bolster its own AI projects. The company has a goal of "democratizing AI," allowing more people to take advantage of the technology.

The new Partnership on AI, meanwhile, is already discussing work with some existing scientific and nonprofit AI organizations, including the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence and the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence.