Google Ends AI Ethics Board

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Google Ends AI Ethics Board

Google employees wrote an open letter criticizing the company's motivations and calling for a member's removal.

· AI Zone ·
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Google announced yesterday that its week-old AI ethics advisory board is no more. The board almost immediately attracted criticism, much of it stemming from Google employees, regarding one of its chosen members.

"It’s become clear that in the current environment, [the AI ethics board] can’t function as we wanted. So we’re ending the council and going back to the drawing board," SVP of global affairs Kent Walker wrote yesterday in an update to Google's original blog post about the 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."

Outrage from Google employees centered on a proposed board member, Heritage Foundation president Kay Coles James. A letter calling for her removal quickly gathered about 2,500 signatures, Gizmodo reported

The letter, posted to Medium on Monday, cited remarks that James has made and criticized her record as "vocally anti-trans, anti-LGBTQ, and anti-immigrant." 

"In selecting James, Google is making clear that its version of 'ethics' values proximity to power over the wellbeing of trans people, other LGBTQ people, and immigrants," the letter stated. "Such a position directly contravenes Google's stated values." 

Another proposed board member, privacy researcher Alessandro Acquisti, had announced on Saturday that he'd declined the invitation. 

"I'd like to share that I've declined the invitation to the ATEAC council," he wrote on Twitter. "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."

Last week, a post on the Google blog stated that the company created the Advanced Technology External Advisory Council (ATEAC) in order to "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's appearance in the news lately has revolved around its apparent reluctance to maintain stated ethical boundaries. Google workers have organized over the past year to publicly disagree with company actions like generous exit packages for those with sexual harrassment claims against them, the unfair treatment of contractors, and the willingness to analyze drone footage for military and government agencies.

The AI ethics board seemed more like a marketing ploy to some than a sincere effort to self-regulate. "There are urgent ethical questions about the AI work Google is doing — and no real avenue by which the board could address them satisfactorily," Vox writer Kelsey Piper wrote on Wednesday. "From the start, it was badly designed for the goal — in a way that suggests Google is treating AI ethics more like a PR problem than a substantive one."

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