Skip to main content

Google throws $25 million at tech companies doing social good

Image Credit: bfishadow / Flickr (Image credit: Image Credit: bfishadow / Flickr)
Audio player loading…

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 (opens in new tab), 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 (opens in new tab)), improve prediction of landslides (Pennsylvania State University (opens in new tab)), monitor rainforest health (Rainforest Connection (opens in new tab)), or help refugees connect with career opportunities in the EU (Skilllab BV (opens in new tab)). 

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 (opens in new tab)." 

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 is a freelance technology journalist. Before going freelance, he spent more than three years at TechRadar reporting on TVs, projectors and smart speakers as the website's Home Cinema Editor – and has been interviewed live on both BBC World News and Channel News Asia, discussing the future of transport and 4K resolution televisions respectively. As a graduate of English Literature and persistent theatre enthusiast, he'll usually be found forcing Shakespeare puns into his technology articles, which he thinks is what the Bard would have wanted. Bylines also include Edge, T3, and Little White Lies.