Baidu becomes first Chinese company to join US-led AI ethics group

18 Oct 2018

Beijing, where Baidu is headquartered. Image: © SeanPavonePhoto/

Chinese tech giant Baidu has become the first Chinese member of a major AI ethics collective.

Beijing-headquartered Baidu has become the first Chinese company to join a major US-led artificial intelligence (AI) group. The collective, The Partnership on AI (PAI), announced on Tuesday (16 October) that the leading Chinese search engine would be joining.

PAI was formed in 2016 by Google, Facebook, Amazon, IBM and Microsoft, with Apple joining in 2017. The group works together to decide best practices on AI technology and assess the impact of the technology on society. In the two years since PAI was established, its membership has grown to more than 70 organisations.

A major step for mainland China

The addition of Baidu marks the first representation from mainland China. Hong Kong University’s School of Engineering is a member of the partnership. Baidu’s president, Ya-Qin Zhang, said: “As AI technology keeps advancing and the application of AI expands, we recognise the importance of joining the global discussion around the future of AI. 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 has expanded from its original business model as a search engine in recent years, to become a tech conglomerate force to be reckoned with. The company has three major AI products: Apollo is China’s biggest open source autonomous driving platform, Baidu ABC is a smart cloud for enterprises and DuerOS is a voice-based digital assistant.

A global partnership for AI ethics

Terah Lyons, executive director of PAI, said: “Admitting our first Chinese member is an important step toward building a truly global partnership. The growth and scope of work on AI in China is extensive, and any conversation about the future of AI that does not involve China is an incomplete conversation.

“I look forward to seeing our members work together across borders, sectors and disciplines to help shape the future of this critical technology, enabling the best possible outcomes for society.”

The introduction of Baidu to the group represents an important step in the creation of a worldwide consensus and uniform policy on the deployment of AI technology in future. Baidu’s admission also represents the beginning of PAI’s foray into China. “We will continue to add new members in China and around the world as we grow, bringing together for-profit companies and civil society organisations,” it said.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects