Inclusivity for Google’s AI council? No way, says petition from Google employees

by WorldTribune Staff, April 5, 2019

Google employees, in the form of a recent petition, demanded respect from management – respect for their opinions about conservatives, including one in particular who is a woman of color.

More than 2,300 Google employees signed the petition calling on higher ups to rescind their decision to have Kay Coles James, president of the Heritage Foundation, on the advisory board of Google’s new artificial intelligence ethics council.

One Google employee speaking on the condition of anonymity told the MIT Technology Review that the conservative opinions of Coles James should deny her a place on the council. The employee stated: “She is a reactionary who denies trans people exist, who endorses radically anti-immigrant positions, and endorses anti-climate-change, anti-science positions.”

Google on April 4 said that it decided to dissolve the short-lived Advanced Technology External Advisory Council (ATEAC) which was designed to monitor its use of artificial intelligence.

“It’s become clear that in the current environment, ATEAC can’t function as we wanted,” a Google spokesperson told The Verge. “So we’re ending the council and going back to the drawing board. We’ll continue to be responsible in our work on the important issues that AI raises, and will find different ways of getting outside opinions on these topics.”

The Google employees also objected to Trumbull CEO Dyan Gibbens being included on the AI council.

Trumbull develops AI systems for the defense industry. Google employees have previously protested the company working with the U.S. military.

Related: Chairman of Joint Chiefs: Google won’t work with Pentagon but offers ‘direct benefit’ to China’s PLA, March 15, 2019

On Facebook, ATEAC board member Luciano Floridi, a philosopher of ethics at Oxford, wrote: “Asking for [Kay Coles James’s] advice was a grave error and sends the wrong message about the nature and goals of the whole ATEAC project. From an ethical perspective, Google has misjudged what it means to have representative views in a broader context. If Mrs. Coles James does not resign, as I hope she does, and if Google does not remove her, as I have personally recommended, the question becomes: what is the right moral stance to take in view of this grave error?”

The employees’ petition also claimed that “By appointing James to the ATEAC, Google elevates and endorses her views, implying that hers is a valid perspective worthy of inclusion in its decision making. This is unacceptable.”

As Vox noted in an April 4 report, the ATEAC “survived for barely more than one week. Founded to guide ‘responsible development of AI’ at Google, it would have had eight members and met four times over the course of 2019 to consider concerns about Google’s AI program. Those concerns include how AI can enable authoritarian states, how AI algorithms produce disparate outcomes, whether to work on military applications of AI, and more.”


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