Google offers money to universities to use AI in research

Google is offering $25 million to universities and nonprofits that have research ideas that can be expanded by using artificial intelligence and other technology to solve problems.

The Google AI Impact Challenge, which includes the offer of help and coaching from experts at Google, launched Monday. "We want to invest in the best ideas globally," said Jacquelline Fuller, vice president of Google and president of

What kinds of ideas? Google says it's open to many fields - including the humanities, such as art or archaeology - and is looking for projects that could have social and environmental impact.

For example, Google has helped with projects such as flood forecasting, allowing officials to warn people of impending danger.

Another project aims to combat child sex trafficking. Because so many victims are advertised online, a tool was developed that helps law enforcement sift through massive amounts of digital information. The technology identifies patterns. "What AI can do is look for the signals that matter - repeated phone numbers, location, image similarity," Fuller says, and use algorithms to pinpoint possible signs of children being trafficked, allowing law enforcement to investigate the most likely cases.

Hundreds of thousands of law-enforcement officers are using that technology, Fuller said, helping them find thousands of traffickers and victims.

They're unifying those efforts and calling it AI for Social Good, and launched the six-month Impact Challenge Monday, issuing a call for research partners around the world.

"We have heard from universities who have ideas about how AI can be applied. Sometimes, what they're lacking is the resources," Fuller said.

Professors, students and people working at nonprofits can submit proposals, even if they don't have expertise in the technology, including if the ideas are in the early stages of development. Winners will be announced in the spring.

"We're open to bunch of ideas and types of ideas," said Brigitte Hoyer Gosselink, head of product impact for Once winners are chosen, Google will kick off an accelerator program, giving recipients funding, support and expertise for the next one to three years.

Google hopes to dramatically increase the impact of projects, so already published research is eligible if it has potential to be expanded.

Other examples of research helped by artificial intelligence include efforts to prevent wildfires, famine and infant deaths.

There's a large-scale project hoping to protect whales. Many whales are harmed by collisions with ships and fishing nets, but protecting the animals is complicated because they spend most of their time well below the surface of the ocean. They're easier to hear than to see: Whale songs can travel hundreds of miles underwater, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has been recording audio for more than a decade in the Pacific Ocean.

But it would take a scientist many years to listen to the 170,000 hours of recordings. Google teamed up with NOAA to create visualizations of the patterns of humpback whales' complicated songs, allowing the algorithm to correctly identify the sound and connect it with the species - giving scientists data on where whales are and where they're going.

They can use that information to let shipping companies know about areas with many whales so that collisions between whales and ships can be reduced.

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