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EBay joins partnership addressing concerns around AI in business

In joining a group that is looking to tackle some of the biggest problems related to the use of AI in business, tech giants like eBay are putting aside competition, at least for now. An eBay IT exec explains why.

The idea that the burgeoning field of artificial intelligence in business applications could benefit from standards and best practices motivated several of the largest tech companies in the world to found the Partnership on AI. The Partnership focuses on areas of AI use, like privacy, fairness, equitable distribution of jobs and making sure AI is applied to social problems in a positive way.

Now, the Partnership is expanding its ranks beyond the original founding members of Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and IBM. EBay Inc., which announced this month it will participate, is the latest to join the exclusive group.

In an interview, Sanjeev Katariya, eBay's chief architect, said the company's decision to take part is all about ensuring that, as AI in business becomes more common, it lives up to a high standard for both ethics and efficacy.

What does eBay hope to get out of participating in the Partnership? Why are competitors collaborating on this?

Sanjeev Katariya: When we all come together and discuss these things, we raise our collective knowledge as an AI society. We can start to take all the right actions and have the right conversations with people and governments, and put in the best practices that are consistent with human values.

The pie is huge. There's an opportunity for all of us to tap into that potential and make good use of our resources and be able to share to advance it. AI is still evolving. The space is huge and the market opportunities are huge.

But it's also about social impact. And when you combine both, these opportunities are still untapped. This gives us the platform to share and advance as a collective, while we can individually pursue our goals. But there's enough space for all of us to tap into this and build out a better future.

What kind of projects will eBay work on through the Partnership?

Katariya: We see this as a great forum for us to blend AI with the human part of it and bring about a solid balance. Currently, there are areas that the Partnership is touching upon that have to do with the distribution of jobs.

What we see at eBay is it's not just about the creation of jobs, it's the basis of economics and how we can use the marketplace to create new kinds of jobs. We are connected to our people, to our marketplace. In order to make all this possible, we have to do a great job at making sure we support the smallest entrant into the market. When you land on eBay, we bring together the power of AI and the power of people to support the development of new kinds of jobs.

What are some of the concerning areas of using AI in business applications that eBay and the Partnership are looking to tackle?

Katariya: You have to take a step back and look at the data that is training AI. In all those cases where humans are sharing information and knowledge with machines, it becomes imperative that we protect the privacy of that information.

People are wary whenever you start to tread on security and privacy. We have to make sure that the data we get is the right data and is in line with our values and our customers' [values]. It is a fundamental imperative for all of us working on AI to feed it the right data.

We also have to be very careful about how we build these things. Sometimes, AI can be self-fulfilling if it is not presented in a general context. Recommendation engines can be biased and just give people the same things. When you combine recommendation algorithms with evolutionary algorithms, like AI, you go to the next level. 

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This was last published in May 2017

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