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How much control does Google have on its AI projects?

Earlier we had published a story on Google’s Pentagon project facing opposition from its employees. Alphabet (GOOGL) subsidiary Google announced this week that it was ending this collaboration after finishing up existing commitments by early next year. This decision invited a lot of mixed responses. Some have angrily criticized Google for not supporting the military. Google has now come up with a set of new principles on how it will use its AI technologies going forward.

Google promises not to use AI technologies for weaponry development, illegal surveillance or other harmful projects but said it would work with the military and other government agencies in the areas of cybersecurity and projects related to its cloud-computing business. A large portion of Google’s investments go into its cloud division.

The reaction to Google’s Seven Commandments (there are seven principles in total), even from its employees, has been tepid, the reason being it still gives the company plenty of room to go ahead and do as it pleases depending on the situation in future. But looking at things broadly, just how much power does Google actually have on its technologies and how much will it hold itself back in the corporate rat race?

artificial intelligence
Image courtesy: Pixabay

It has been said extensively that artificial intelligence is gaining prominence and catching up fast in every industry from healthcare to defense. Technology is becoming extremely important in improving security measures both in the digital and real world. That said, don’t technology companies have a role to play when it comes to national security and tackling crime at all levels?

Google says it will not allow intrusive use of its technologies but that opens up a whole Pandora’s box which brings out questions on where to draw the fine line between intrusiveness and proactive surveillance. When it comes to applications like facial recognition and location tracking, would the companies refrain from helping the government in identifying potential threats?

Google is not alone here. Microsoft (MSFT) too said it would not support projects that violate human rights. Apple’s (AAPL) tussle with the FBI over an iPhone is well-known. There are those in the industry who believe the military and government deserve undisputed support in their operations and if push comes to shove, can these tech companies stay away from cooperating or even stop the government from accessing their technologies?

Another aspect to look at here is the business opportunity. Artificial intelligence is a gold mine and its applications have far-reaching potential, in both ways. Recently, we reported on how AI can clone voices and as one of the young entrepreneurs involved in the project put it, “you cannot stop technology.” There it is, technology will find a way.

Google has acquired the most number of AI start-ups in recent years 

In other words, technology will keep evolving to higher levels and if one company doesn’t do it, another one will. In such a state, will Google limit itself when it comes to lucrative business opportunities or being a part of cutting-edge technologies even in areas like defense? Quite the tight rope, isn’t it?

Google has acquired the most number of AI start-ups in the recent years – close to 15. These range from DeepMind Technologies to AIMatter. Based on reports by Forbes and the McKinsey Global Institute Study, in 2016 alone, Google spent between $20 billion and $30 billion on AI, the majority of this being on R&D and the remaining on AI acquisitions.

According to reports by TechRepublic and RS Components, Google has made the most investment in AI start-ups over the past 11 years. The tech firm has invested in 29 companies and the total amount it spent on disclosed acquisitions comes to $3.9 billion. This figure does not include the acquisitions where the purchase price was not disclosed so the total amount would be higher. Google clearly has a lot riding on AI projects and it would be interesting to watch how far the road of righteousness takes this giant.

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