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Silicon Valley is working with China to ease fears about AI

Baidu has become the first Chinese company to join a US-led alliance on artificial intelligence that include...

Posted: Oct. 17, 2018 1:45 PM
Updated: Oct. 17, 2018 1:45 PM

Baidu has become the first Chinese company to join a US-led alliance on artificial intelligence that includes Silicon Valley's biggest names.

The Partnership on AI was established in 2016 to ease concerns about the development and use of the frontier technology.

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Fears over AI include the risk of machines becoming smarter than people, which Elon Musk has said could pose an existential threat to the human race. Experts have also warned that rogue states, criminals and terrorists could use the technology to wreak havoc around the world by taking control of drones and other automated weapons.

US tech heavyweights Facebook (FB), Amazon (AMZN), Google (GOOGL), Microsoft (MSFT) and IBM (IBM) set up the group to thrash out best practices for AI technology, in partnership with academics and ethics experts.

"Admitting our first Chinese member is an important step toward building a truly global partnership," the group's executive director, Terah Lyons, said in a statement.

Tensions over technology are at the heart of a trade war between the United States and China. The Trump administration has accused Beijing of stealing tech secrets from American companies, and some of Baidu's partners in the consortium are banned in China.

Artificial intelligence is spreading rapidly into daily life. It's already replacing warehouse workers, steering driverless cars and helping diagnose illnesses. And China's ambitions in the field are too big to ignore.

"Any conversation about the future of AI that does not involve China is an incomplete conversation," Lyons said.

Baidu (BIDU), which runs China's biggest search engine, has been extremely bullish on AI and wants to become an industry leader. The company started aggressively investing in the emerging technology in 2012, back when it "was not that sexy," Baidu CEO Robin Li said in an interview with CNN last year.

"AI is the new electricity ... it's going to change industry after industry and we are at the center of that," Li said.

Baidu's self-driving car unit is partly based in Silicon Valley and the company has attracted global brands like Ford (F) and BMW (BMWYY) to join Apollo, its project to develop the technology.

The Chinese government also wants to be at the center of the global AI revolution. Beijing set out a vision last year to build a domestic artificial intelligence industry worth nearly $150 billion in the coming years.

But Beijing has also fueled concerns through its growing use of AI to keep an eye on citizens. Facial recognition technology is being used by police to catch suspects who attend public events like music concerts.

"We recognize the importance of joining the global discussion around the future of AI," Baidu President Ya-Qin Zhang said in a statement. "Ensuring AI's safety, fairness and transparency should not be an afterthought but rather highly considered at the onset of every project or system we build."

The Partnership on AI said it plans to add new members in China and other countries in the future.

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