Google Has a Board-Level AI Ethical Dilemma

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Employees at Google are less than thrilled with a newly announced member of its Advanced Technology External Advisory Council (ATEAC), according to MIT Technology Review.  

At the EmTech Digital event in San Francisco, Google reportedly announced the names of its eight-member advisory council tasked with providing feedback and support for artificial intelligence (AI) projects. One of the members, Kay Cole Jones, president of the Heritage Foundation, is causing quite a stir among employees.

The eight members hold the moral responsibility of guiding ethics in Google’s AI projects. ”This group will consider some of Google’s most complex challenges that arise under our AI Principles, like facial recognition and fairness in machine learning, providing diverse perspectives to inform our work,” Google said when it announced the board. However, concerns over the potential of algorithm bias have employees worried that an outspoken critic of the LGBTQ community poses serious ethical questions. 

More than 1,500 Google employees have signed a letter asking for the removal of Jones, “who is vocally anti-trans, anti-LGBTQ and anti-immigrant. Her record speaks for itself – over, and over, and over again,” according to the letter from Google employees.

In another blog post, Os Keyes, PhD student in the Data Ecologies Laboratory at the University of Washington’s Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering, wrote, “Whatever the reason, the Heritage Foundation’s presence – and the attitudes expressed by the self-proclaimed ‘ethicists’ appointed from out of academia – are damning to both Google and the academics appointed. If you are on this panel, you are communicating that you consider transphobia, homophobia and racism acceptable attitudes in a colleague if the status bump is good enough.”

Keyes’ voice potentially speaks for many. In response to the outrage, another ATEAC appointee, Alessandro Acquisiti, professor of information technology and public policy at the Heinz College, Carnegie Mellon University, thanked Google for its consideration but tweeted, “I’ve declined the invitation to the ATEAC council. While I’m devoted to research grappling with key ethical issues of fairness, rights & inclusion in AI, I don’t believe this is the right forum for me to engage in this important work.”

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