Google pledges $25 million toward AI solutions for social issues

It's launching both a dedicated program and a proposal challenge.

Google isn't just backing away from its military AI contract, it's promising to use that computational power for more positive purposes. The company has launched an AI for Social Good program that will unify engineering and research efforts dedicated toward noble causes, such as conserving wildlife, finding jobs, predicting floods and anticipating health risks. The effort will tap experts outside of Google for help, but that's not the only approach -- it's calling for ideas from non-experts, too.

The company is ramping up a AI Impact Challenge that asks academia, non-profits and other organizations (whether they're AI-savvy or not) to submit proposals using AI to solve "social, humanitarian and environmental" problems. Any proposal that makes the cut will receive funding from a $25 million pool, join an accelerator program and receive consulting as well as custom support with the help of the data science non-profit DataKind. Google will pick the winners in spring 2019 with assistance from a panel of experts.

To some degree, this is about burnishing Google's image after months of criticism. Google had been pursuing some of these AI projects for years -- it's just that the tech giant now has a conspicuous label for those initiatives, with funding to spur more projects. All the same, it's an acknowledgment that Google can't pursue AI in the existing climate without thinking about its cultural and ethical effects.