Staff protest anti-LGBTQ member of Google’s AI ethics council

2 Apr 2019210 Views

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someone

Bicycles at Google’s campus in Mountain View, California. Image: © akoppo1/Stock.adobe.com

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someone

Workers protest addition of conservative think tank leader who has fought against equal rights for LGBTQ people.

Google staff have protested the inclusion of Kay Coles James, the president of the Heritage Foundation, who they say is known for her anti-LGBTQ and anti-immigrant views, on Google’s Advanced Technology External Advisory Council (ATEAC).

At the time of writing (2 April), more than 1,000 Googlers have signed a petition to remove James from the council.

‘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’
– GOOGLERS AGAINST TRANSPHOBIA

Google staff are noted for their activism on issues ranging from equal pay to sexual harassment, AI ethics and doing business in China. Last year staff resigned in protest of Google’s involvement in a military drone AI project and in October staff of the internet giant from all over the world staged a walkout over how the company handled sexual misconduct claims.

Googlers will not accept the unacceptable

The AI ethics council that Google has formed appears to have hit a schism after Alessandro Acquisti, a behavioural economist and privacy researcher, stepped down from the council, according to Bloomberg.

ATEAC was formed to “consider some of Google’s most complex challenges” under its AI principles, including facial recognition, fairness in machine learning and diverse perspectives.

In a Medium post, Googlers Against Transphobia said that appointing James to ATEAC “significantly undermines Google’s position on AI ethics and fairness”.

The group wrote: “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. Such a position directly contravenes Google’s stated values. Many have emphasised this publicly, and a professor appointed to ATEAC has already resigned in the wake of the controversy.

“Following the announcement, the person who took credit for appointing James stood by the decision, saying that James was on the council to ensure ‘diversity of thought’. This is a weaponisation of the language of diversity. 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.”

The situation opens up an important debate about the latest catchphrase of tech leaders – ‘diversity of thought’ – and what it really means. It also signals a steely determination that AI ought to be a force for good as the era of automation begins.

John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist who served as editor of Siliconrepublic.com for 17 years.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com