Within a week of Google announcing it brought in an external group to monitor the ethics of their AI program, employee outrage over a supposed “vocally anti-trans” conservative council member led the company to pull the plug.
Google originally brought the Advanced Technology External Advisory Council (ATEAC) on board in order to keep the company from crossing any serious ethical lines in its pursuit of artificial intelligence – but Google employees have claimed that the company had acted unethically in choosing who would sit on the council.
The Silicon Valley giant has now confirmed the board is cancelled, telling Vox on Thursday “in the current environment” the ATEAC “can’t function as we wanted.” The company assured they would continue to look for a way to include “outside opinions” on the ethics of its AI research.
What must have brought about the board’s demise was a Monday letter from “Googlers organized against transphobia and hate,” where signatories demanded the company remove board member Kay Coles James, president of the conservative Heritage Foundation.
While James is first black woman to hold this position in the influential think tank, that is not the right kind of diversity according to the authors of the letter, who say her selection is a “weaponization of the language of diversity.” The group believes that James is “vocally anti-trans” for doing things like referring to trans-women as “biological males.” They go on to explain that those with conservative viewpoints like James’ would make it impossible for the council to advise Google regarding the REAL ethical issues involved in AI.
From AI that doesn’t recognize trans people, doesn’t “hear” more feminine voices, and doesn’t “see” women of color, to AI used to enhance police surveillance, profile immigrants, and automate weapons — those who are most marginalized are most at risk.
The board also controversially included Dyan Gibbens, founder and CEO of drone manufacturer Trumbull Unmanned, a company that is literally developing the tech for the kind of terrifying killer robots the ATEAC would hopefully have been advising against.
Other board members agreed with the statement, including behavioral economist and privacy researcher Alessandro Acquisti who stepped down from the ATEAC shortly after the letter was released.
While Google googles for a more acceptable advisory board, the public will have to be satisfied with the company’s promises to hold themselves accountable for acting ethically.
Speaking of them doing exactly the opposite, researchers revealed last week how the company’s “dramatically biased” search engine algorithms could have helped shift up to 78 million votes toward the Democrats during the 2018 midterm elections. Meanwhile, Australia is threatening senior Google executives with jail time for failing to stop distribution of the video of the Christchuch shooting.
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