Advertising giant Google has announced the launch of a new programme, AI for Social Good, through which it aims to encourage the use of artificial intelligence for positive change - and is backing it with a $25 million pool of grant funding.

Following the considerable backlash from when its partnership with the US Pentagon on Project Maven, a programme to use artificial intelligence (AI) systems to analyse footage from military drones, became public knowledge earlier this year, Google appears to be going on a charm offensive to convince people that AI can be a force for good. Key to this is its new programme, AI for Social Good, behind which it has pledged funding to assist non-profits, academics, and social enterprises looking to create a positive impact through AI and related technologies.

'For the past few years we've been applying core Google AI research and engineering to projects with positive societal impact, including forecasting floods, protecting whales, and predicting famine,' explain Google's Jeff Dean, senior vice president of Google AI, and Jacquelline Fuller, president of Google.org, in a joint statement. 'Today we’re unifying these efforts in a new program called AI for Social Good. We’re applying AI to a wide range of problems, partnering with external organisations to work toward solutions.

'But we’re far from having all the answers - or even knowing all the questions. We want people from as many backgrounds as possible to surface problems that AI can help solve, and to be empowered to create solutions themselves. So as a part of AI for Social Good, we're also launching the Google AI Impact Challenge, a global call for non-profits, academics, and social enterprises from around the world to submit proposals on how they could use AI to help address some of the world's greatest social, humanitarian and environmental problems.'

The Google AI Impact Challenge, the pair explain, comes with funding via Google's philanthropic division from a $25 million pool along with credits for use of Google Cloud services and consultancy services from Google's AI division. Proposed projects will be selected in early 2019 via a panel of experts, the company has confirmed, while those applying don't necessarily need to be experts in AI technologies themselves.

'We're excited to see what new ideas nonprofits, developers and social entrepreneurs from across the world come up with,' Dean and Fuller conclude, 'and we're looking forward to supporting them as best we can.'


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