Google staffers rail against its AI ethics board, as privacy researcher quits

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Google’s efforts to not be evil when it comes to AI have taken a knock, after one of its external advisors quit, and staffers at the search giant started a petition to demand the exclusion of another advisor.

The remit of the Advanced Technology External Advisory Council was 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”. It was due to do this in a series of meetings supposedly beginning this month.

Alessandro Acquisti, a behavioral economist and privacy researcher, declared over the weekend that he had declined the invitation to join the committee.

Acquisti was named as one of the panel members last week, as was Kay Coles James, who was described as a “public policy expert” and is president of The Heritage Foundation, which, according to Google’s own blurb, focuses on “free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom and national defense.”.

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Acquisti did not give any further reason for his decision. However, a group of Google’s own workforce linked it to an outcry over James’s appointment.

A Medium post cum petition on behalf of 1,244 (and counting) Googlers, and a large number of academics and other interested parties, called for the removal of James, calling her “vocally anti-trans, anti-LGBTQ, and anti-immigrant.”

The post also said that “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 weaponization of the language of diversity,” it claims.

The letter concludes, “Google cannot claim to support trans people and its trans employees — a population that faces real and material threats — and simultaneously appoint someone committed to trans erasure to a key AI advisory position. Given this, we call on Google to remove Kay Coles James from ATEAC.”

So far there has been no public comment from Google or James. However, the outcry seems set to engulf other members of the board, as this tweet suggests.

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