October 30, 2018 @ 8:55 AM By Jeff Dean
In pop culture, artificial intelligence (AI) often shows up as a robot companion, like TARS in “Interstellar,” or some far-out superintelligence. But in reality, AI—computer programming tools that help us find patterns in complex data and make everyday products more useful—already powers a lot of technology around us, and is addressing some of society’s biggest unsolved challenges.
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. 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 organizations 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 nonprofits, 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.
We’ll help selected organizations bring their proposals to life with coaching from Google’s AI experts, Google.org grant funding from a $25 million pool, and credits and consulting from Google Cloud. Grantees will also join a specialized Launchpad Accelerator program, and we’ll tailor additional support to each project’s needs in collaboration with data science nonprofit DataKind. In spring of 2019, an international panel of experts, who work in computer science and the social sector, will help us choose the top proposals.
We don’t expect applicants to be AI experts. For any nonprofit or researcher who has a great idea or wants help brainstorming one, we’ve built an educational guide with introductions to AI and the types of problems it’s well-suited for, as well as workshops in key locations around the world.
To give you a sense of the potential we see, here are a few examples of how Google and others have already used AI over the past few years:
Wildlife conservation: To better protect endangered whales, we have to know where they are. With AI developed at Google—in the same vein as research by college student Daniel de Leon—it’s possible to quickly scan 100,000 hours of audio recorded in the Pacific to identify whale sounds. We hope one day we can not only better identify whales in these recordings, but also accurately deploy this system at scale to find and protect whales.
Employment: In South Africa, Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator helps connect unemployed youth with entry-level positions. As a participant in Google Cloud’s Data Solutions for Change program, they’ve used data analytics and ML to match over 50,000 candidates with jobs.
Flood prediction: Floods affect up to 250 million people, causing thousands of fatalities and inflicting billions of dollars of economic damage every year. At Google, we’ve combined physics-based modeling and AI to provide earlier and more accurate flood warnings through Google Public Alerts.
Wildfire prevention: Two high school students in California built a device that uses AI to identify and predict areas in a forest that are susceptible to wildfires. This technology could one day provide an early warning to fire authorities.
Infant health: Ubenwa is a Canadian company that built an AI system to analyze the sounds of a baby crying and predict the risk of birth asphyxia (when a baby’s brain and other organs don’t get enough oxygen and nutrients during birth). It’s a mobile app so it can be widely used even where doctors aren’t readily available.
We’re excited to see what new ideas nonprofits, developers and social entrepreneurs from across the world come up with—and we’re looking forward to supporting them as best we can.