Last week, Microsoft announced the latest news in its ongoing “AI for Good” program: a $40M effort to apply data science and AI to difficult and comparatively under-studied conditions like tuberculosis, SIDS and leprosy. How does one responsibly parachute into such complex ecosystems as a tech provider, and what is the process for vetting recipients of the company’s funds and services?
Tasked with administrating this philanthropic endeavor is John Kahan, chief data analytics officer and AI lead in the AI for Good program. I spoke with him shortly after the announcement to better understand his and Microsoft’s approach to entering areas where they have never tread as a company and where the opportunity lies for both them and their new partners.
Kahan, a Microsoft veteran of many years, is helping to define the program as it develops, he explained at the start of our interview.
John Kahan: About a year ago, they announced my role in conjunction with expanding AI for Good from being really a grants-oriented program, where we gave money away, to a program where we use data science to help literally infuse AI and data to drive change around the world. It is 100% philanthropic — we don’t do anything that’s commercial-related.
TechCrunch: This kind of research is still a very broad field, though. How do you decide what constitutes a worthwhile investment of resources?