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AP Photo/Ng Han Guan
Baidu’s CEO has a new in with American AI companies.
PAN-PACIFIC AI

Chinese search giant Baidu says it cares about what AI does to society

By Dave Gershgorn

Search giant Baidu will be the first Chinese company to join the US-centric Partnership on AI, the organizations announced Oct. 16.

The addition to the two-year-old partnership is an unusual move within the modern narrative concerning AI, where Chinese and American AI advancements are often characterized as an arms race. Baidu, which can be thought of as the Google of China, has far-reaching goals for artificial intelligence technology, from self-driving cars to personal assistants.

Baidu’s fundamental approach to artificial intelligence also makes it an odd candidate for the partnership, which focuses on mitigating potential harms of AI and promoting responsible development of the technology. Baidu has been portrayed in the past as valuing speed of innovation rather than being concerned about societal implications, and has been cited by Human Rights Watch as being discriminatory in its job posting.

However, the company says that it’s now committed to designing AI with societal values in mind.

“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,” Baidu president Ya-Qin Zhang said in a blog post.

American companies such as Google, Microsoft, and IBM have recently been vocal about installing ethics safeguards for the technology and mitigating algorithmic bias, after research indicating underlying problems with the technology and public backlash.

“We are not naive to the fundamental cultural and political differences between China and other parts of the world,” Terah Lyons, executive director of PAI, told Quartz via email. “There are important conversations about responsible development and use to be had; China’s context provides good reason to have them. For the Partnership on AI to achieve its mission, we need to involve a broad range of stakeholders, from across all geographies.”