Search engine Baidu becomes first China firm to join U.S. AI ethics group

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese search engine Baidu Inc BIDU.O has become the first Chinese company to join an artificial intelligence (AI) ethics group led by top U.S. tech firms, amid wider political clashes over AI competition between China and the United States.

FILE PHOTO: A Baidu logo is seen at the Global Mobile Internet Conference (GMIC) at the National Convention Center in Beijing, China April 27, 2018. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

The Partnership on AI (PAI), which counts Alphabet Inc's GOOGL.O Google, Apple Inc AAPL.O and Facebook Inc FB.O as members, is a body that develops ethical guidelines for AI research, including ensuring research does not violate international conventions or human rights.

Last year China’s industry ministry named Baidu as one of four national AI champions, and the search firm has invested heavily in autonomous driving and deep learning in recent years.

“Baidu’s admission represents the beginning of PAI’s entrance into China. We will continue to add new members in China and around the world as we grow,” said PAI in a statement on Tuesday.

The inclusion of Baidu in the group comes as Chinese and U.S. companies are looking to ramp up cooperation on AI, despite a looming political scuffle between the U.S. and China over technology transfers.

Last year China laid out a roadmap to become a world leader in AI by 2025, with plans to invest roughly $400 billion in the industry in the coming years.

The ambitions have rankled the U.S. government, which has discussed plans to bolster security reviews of cutting-edge technology, including AI, over fears that China could access technology of strategic military importance.

China’s AI roadmap encourages technology sharing between private, public and military research groups.

Despite the clash, U.S. companies have expanded their AI presence in China while Baidu and other Chinese firms have launched AI research labs in the United States.

Last month China's cyber ministry hosted Google, Amazon Inc AMZN.O and Microsoft Corp MSFT.O at its annual AI forum. All three companies have launched AI research labs in China over the past year, despite tightening censorship and data restrictions that limit the companies' involvement in the market.

At the forum, top government officials stressed that China’s development of AI technology would be ethically conducted, adding that they have plans to retrain workers who lose their jobs to AI.

Reporting by Cate Cadell; Editing by Christopher Cushing