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Google DeepMind’s new business unit to assess AI’s impact on society


  • There are many controversial, and polarised, views on the impact that AI will have on society, this new business unit, which is one of the first of its kind, will hopefully help clear some of the weeds


In a move to counter the run in it had with the UK government last year, Google owned DeepMind has decided to form a new business unit called DeepMind Ethics and Society (DMES) that will look into the ethical and moral implications and impact that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is having, and will have on society, in the hope that it will help them better judge when AI is pushing the boundaries too hard, too fast and too far.


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DeepMind is considered to be one of the heavyweights in the AI industry and in the past eighteen months it’s taught it’s platform how to beat the world champion Go player, and annihilate online Go players, think like a human, dream and fight other AI’s for resources, lipread, talk and translate, and much much more. But that said it’s also had a few run ins with Government, particularly the UK Government.

In 2015 it agreed a data-sharing deal with three hospitals in the UK to process the data of 1.6 million patients for “new methods of clinical detection, diagnosis and prevention application,” but the project went awry when the NHS regulator said the deal had breached data protection laws.


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In response, DeepMind said it was “working hard” on data transparency both internally and externally, and the new committee seems to be the fruit of its labours. In the blog post explaining the formation of DMES, DeepMind notes that, “As scientists developing AI technologies, we have a responsibility to conduct and support open research and investigation into the wider implications of our work.”

That indicates that it believes it needs to take a stronger role in regulating how it applies its powerful algorithms to situations where it doesn’t have much expertise. This particularly comes into play when considering the NHS debacle, where DeepMind said it “underestimated the rules around patient data” and the “complexity of the NHS.”


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The new business unit is DeepMind’s attempt to demonstrate that the company cares about AI’s  impact on society, and not just the tech industry, in both the long and the short term, and as the company says in its blog post, the ethical considerations of AI is not a new thing. It highlights Julia Angwin’s groundbreaking study of the ethical quandary of racism in criminal justice algorithms, in short, looking at how algorithms are racist against people of colour in criminal justice situations, and Kate Crawford and Ryan Calo’s in depth paper on how AI impacts society on wider, broader scale.

To help DeepMind with this issue they’ve enlisted the help of six fellows, including Nick Bostrom, the University of Oxford professor who wrote the book of existential risk that influenced both Elon Musk and Bill Gates.

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