Google throws $25 million at tech companies doing social good

Image Credit: bfishadow / Flickr (Image credit: Image Credit: bfishadow / Flickr)

If you're worried about the societal impact of advancing technologies, fear not. Google has delved into its deep pockets to fund a number of initiatives hoping to  use advances in artificial intelligence to actually do some good.

The massive fund is part of Google's AI Impact Challenge, which invited calls from "organizations around the world to submit their ideas for how they could use AI to help address societal challenges." And Google took the opportunity to announce the winning recipients today during its Google I/O 2019 conference.

The grants total $25 million (around £19 million / AU$36 million), shared between 20 organizations worldwide, from London to Lebanon. Some, like Hand Talk, focus on AI's language capabilities, developing programs for translating Portuguese into Brazilian sign language.  

Others are looking to develop monitoring tools to improve irrigation for local farmers (American University of Beirut), improve prediction of landslides (Pennsylvania State University), monitor rainforest health (Rainforest Connection), or help refugees connect with career opportunities in the EU (Skilllab BV). 

Recipients of the grants will receive mentorship from Google AI experts, credit and consulting from Google's Cloud computing platform, and "the opportunity to join a customised accelerator program from Google Developers Launchpad." 

Baby steps

While some initiatives seem more mundane than others (pest control, for one), it's hard to stress the logistical improvements that can come from large-scale computing solutions, and Google's funds are a way to do just that. 

It's also reassuring to see Google's commitment after it set up an advisory committee on the ethics of AI, and then immediately shut it down. There are a lot of competing opinions on what AI should and shouldn't be accountable for, but it's reassuring some beginning steps being taken in the right direction. 

Google's press release was quick to point out that almost half of the companies awarded had no previous experience in AI, and it's clear that initiatives like these are what's going to help AI reach people and places who have yet to benefit.

Henry St Leger

Henry is a freelance technology journalist, and former News & Features Editor for TechRadar, where he specialized in home entertainment gadgets such as TVs, projectors, soundbars, and smart speakers. Other bylines include Edge, T3, iMore, GamesRadar, NBC News, Healthline, and The Times.