Baidu, the tech giant often described as China’s equivalent of Google, has become the first Chinese company to join a US-led group that studies and formulates best practice for artificial intelligence (AI) technologies.

The Partnership on AI to Benefit People and Society (PAI) was established by Amazon, Facebook, Google, IBM and Microsoft in September 2016 to act as a consortium focused on the ethics of AI, such as its potential impact on privacy.

Apple joined in January 2017 and the organisation now has 70 members – including those in the private sector and academia, and global bodies such as Unicef and the United Nations Development Programme.

To date, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology is the only Chinese organisation to have joined, but PAI announced in a statement this week that Baidu’s admission represents the group's entrance into mainland China.

It said Baidu’s AI leaders will join PAI’s existing working groups and forthcoming programmes, contributing to research “intended to develop the policies, tools and principles that will inform and drive responsible AI development and deployment”.

Coinciding with an ongoing trade dispute between the US and China that is causing market jitters around the world, PAI’s new collaboration with one of China’s top tech companies is a significant development.

“Admitting our first Chinese member is an important step toward building a truly global partnership,” said Terah Lyons, executive director of the Partnership on AI.

“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,” she added.

Also commenting on the initiative, Baidu president Ya-Qin Zhang said: “The impact of a transformative technology like AI goes beyond borders, so we are looking forward to both sharing our own insights and learning from our international peers.”

Baidu is an active participant in the development of AI, with its creations including Apollo, a self-driving vehicle project, and DuerOS, a voice-enabled digital assistant.

Speaking at last month’s DMEXCO event in Germany, Alex Cheng, chief technology officer at Baidu Search, outlined how the company is investing heavily in AI and how the technology is facilitating what he termed “intelligent actions” in marketing. (For more, read WARC’s comprehensive report: Baidu’s omni-marketing future.)

Sourced from Partnership on AI; additional content by WARC staff