Apple is pushing past its famous secrecy for the sake of artificial intelligence.
In December, the Cupertino tech giant quietly published its first AI research paper. Now, it’s joining the Partnership on AI to Benefit People and Society, an industry nonprofit group founded by some of its biggest rivals, including Microsoft, Google and Amazon.
On Friday, the partnership announced that Apple’s head of advanced development for Siri, Tom Gruber, is joining its board. Gruber has been at Apple since 2010 when the iPhone maker bought Siri, the company he cofounded and where he served as CTO.
“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,” wrote Gruber in a statement on the nonprofit’s website. “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.”
Other members of the board include
- Greg Corrado from Google’s DeepMind,
- Ralf Herbrich from Amazon,
- Eric Horvitz from Microsoft,
- Yann Lecun from Facebook, and
- Francesca Rossi from IBM.
Outside of large companies, the group announced it’s also adding members from the
- American Civil Liberties Union,
- MacArthur Foundation,
- Peterson Institute of International Economics,
- Arizona State University and the
- University of California, Berkeley.
The group was formally announced in September.
Board member Horvitz, who is director of Microsoft Research, said the members of the group started meeting with each other at various AI conferences. They were already close colleagues in the field and they thought they could start working together to discuss emerging challenges and opportunities in AI.
The organization will work together to develop best practices and educate the public around AI. Horvitz said the group tackle, for example, critical areas like health care and transportation. The group will look at the potential for biases in AI — after some experiments have shown that the way researchers train the AI algorithms can lead to biases in gender and race. The nonprofit will also try to develop standards around human-machine collaboration, for example, to deal with questions like when should a self-driving car hand off control to the driver.
“I think there’s a realization that AI will touch society quite deeply in the coming years in powerful and nuanced ways,” Horitz said. “We think it’s really important to involve the public as well as experts. Some of these directions has no simple answer. It can’t come from a company. We need to have multiple constituents checking in.”
The AI community has been critical of Apple’s secrecy for several years secrecy has hurt the company’s recruiting efforts for AI talent. The company has been falling behind in some of the major advancements in AI, especially as intelligent voice assistants from Amazon and Google have started taking off with consumers.
Horvitz said the group had been in discussions with Apple since before its launch in September. But Apple wasn’t ready to formally join the group until now. “My own sense is that Apple was in the middle of their iOS 10 and iPhone 7 launches” and wasn’t ready to announce, he said. “We’ve always treated Apple as a founding member of the group.”
“I think Apple had a realization that to do the best AI research and to have access to the top minds in the field is the expectation of engaging openly with academic research communities,” Horitz said. “Other companies like Microsoft have discovered this over the years. We can be quite competitive and be open to sharing ideas when it comes to the core foundational science.
“It’s my hope that this partnership with Apple shows that the company has a rich engagement with people, society and stakeholders,” he said.