Google's AI Council Already Has a Glitch

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on April 04, 2019 10:17 AM

Isn't it annoying when you have to reboot a brand new computer because it crashed before you even started your first project?

Welcome to Google's world. The company organized an advisory group to develop artificial intelligence, and it already has to start over.

The Advanced Technology External Advisory Council is supposed to advise the company on subjects like facial recognition and bias in machine learning. The problem is the council is already blowing up.

Blowing Up

Last week, Google announced it had formed a group of experts to work on AI projects. They were supposed to provide insight into some challenging issues, but the group is already mired in controversy. Some 500 employees have demanded that one council member, Kay Cole James, be removed. The workers say she is "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," their petition says. "Such a position directly contravenes Google's stated values."

It's not the first time Google employees have lifted their voices against the company. Last year, they revolted against a project to develop AI for the Pentagon.

Changing Up

Google listened then and said it would not renew the government contract. But this year's AI project is different than last year's. The company is not likely to dissolve its new council over a protest against James, who is president of The Heritage Foundation. However, another member has declined an invitation to join the think tank. Alessandro Acquisti, a behavioral economist and privacy researcher, said Google's research was important but the council was not "the right forum" for him. According to CNet, the issues themselves are controversial.

Other council members include experts in industrial engineering, psychology, public policy, and digital ethics. Google CEO Sundar Pichai said they will continue to exchange ideas and gather feedback from partners and organizations around the world."

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