GOOGLE CREATES AN ETHICS BOARD
In a move that many would call ironic one of the largest tech companies in the world, which has a reputation for spying on its users and selling the data to advertisers attempted to create an ethics board. The purpose they claimed was to prevent societal disaster caused by its AI technology. This seems to imply that if there is no oversight on Google’s AI programs even they admit it could be destructive. That does not inspire confidence in Google at all.
The company truly believed that by creating an ethics board it could solve the PR problem they have had for a while now. Google has struggled to convince people its AI developments will not be harmful. They even had employees resign over the infamous Project Maven contract with the Pentagon to supply AI tech for drones.
The panel was called the Advanced Technology External Advisory Council (ATEAC) and featured a range of academics and experts from around the world. The 8 people who were on the panel are as follows. Alessandro Acquisti, Bubacarr Bah, De Kai, Dyan Gibbens, Joanna Bryson, Kay Coles James, Luciano Floridi, and William Joseph Burns. Among them is a former US deputy secretary of state (Burns) and a University of Bath associate professor (Bryson). Bryson also published a high-profile thesis called ‘Robots should be slaves’ in which she argues against treating robots like people.
Google gave itself a pat on the back because they were able to assemble such a diverse group of people who could surely turn around their public image. Things did not work out well for the tech giant.
GOOGLE’S ETHICS BOARD FACES SERIOUS BACKLASH
Google had intended to make their ethics board as diverse as possible. In order to be truly diverse they included a conservative figure Kay James who holds some controversial views. Given the fact that in the US if a person holds conservative views they are almost always branded as evil and racist on social media Google should have thought this through a bit more. They didn’t, and they faced serious backlash mere days after forming due to a tweet from Kay James.
Kay James tweets her opinion on the equality act.
Kay James is the president of conservative think tank the Heritage foundation. The foundation has a reputation for opposing LGBTQ and immigrant rights which many Googlers feel should not be promoted. The word “Googlers” refers to employees of the company. A large group of these Googlers wrote a post attacking Kay James for her views claiming Google should never have put her on the board to begin with. This is despite the fact that most of them wanted there to be a diverse group of people on that board. The meaning of the word “diverse” seems to get changed every other day depending on how everyone feels.
GOOGLE SCRAPS ETHICS BOARD LESS THAN A WEEK AFTER CREATING IT
In light of all the backlash against Kay James Google decided to get rid of its ethics board less than a week after creating it. This is not all that surprising considering the fact that no matter who Google puts on an ethics board it will be impossible to please everyone and even more impossible to convince the public that their intentions are pure. In a statement, Google wrote:
“It’s become clear that in the current environment, ATEAC can’t function as we wanted. 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 issue that AI raises, and we will find different ways of getting outside opinions on these topics.”
In other words, the toxic environment created by people complaining about a conservative has shifted the focus away from what the purpose of the council was. Google concludes its statement with a message of reassurance that they will continue to pursue AI in an ethical manner and they are consulting with other entities for opinions on which direction to go. Will the general public believe Google? Probably not.