Less than a week. This is what has lasted the Advanced External Technology Advisory Council (ATEAC) of Google, whose objective was to advise the company on the ethical aspect of Artificial Intelligence, especially when implementing new tools of machine learning, facial recognition, natural language processing, music technology, etc.
The decision to end the activities of this council comes after more than 2,000 Google employees have signed a letter denouncing the anti-LGBT and anti-immigration character of Kay Coles James, one of the members of a council that was composed of seven other members.
The letter, backed by the majority of Google’s workers, states that “in selecting James, Google is making it clear that their version of ethics is closer to power than to concern themselves with the welfare of LGBT people and immigrants”.
At this point it is worth remembering that between 2001 and 2005, Kay Coles James was director of the human resources office of the George W. Bush Administration. Prior to that, she held various political positions in different American states and in 2017, was named president of the Heritage Foundation, an influential neoliberal think tank.
As part of the Google advisory board, she would be responsible for defining the ethical orientation of AI in the field of public policy. The other seven members who were part of the council were Alessandro Acquisti, behavioral economist, professor of information technology at various centers and a privacy researcher; De Kai, researcher of natural language process, musical technology and machine learning; Dyan Gibbens, expert in industrial engineering and autonomous systems and CEO of automation startup Trumbull; Bubacarr Bah, researcher and expert in applied and computational mathematics; Joanna Bryson, expert in Psychology and Artificial Intelligence; Luciano Floridi, philosopher and expert in digital ethics and William Joseph Burns, expert in foreign policy and diplomatic.
Of insulting gays and lesbians to defend the construction of the wall with Mexico
The truth is that few understood the initial appointment of James as a member of a council whose sole mission was to issue ethical opinions. James’s relationship with the Donald Trump administration, his unconditional support for the construction of the wall with Mexico, his position clearly contrary to abortion and his repeated statements against the LGBT collective did not make her exactly the ideal candidate for the position.
So much so that since Google made public the composition of the council, the employees of the technology took less than 72 hours to gather the more than 2,000 signatures that have been necessary to end this initiative.
As stated by a Google representative to “The Guardian”, “it has become clear that at the present time, ATEAC can not function as we would have liked. For this reason, we are going to dissolve the council and start over”.
And what about the rest of the members? While some like Alessandro Acquisti resigned even before Google decided to finish the ATEAC project, others like Luciano Floridi have indicated that although they do not share James’ views, the work of the council should continue, as shown by the fact that There must also be room for difference.
Activism wakes up in Google
This is not the first controversy that has led Google in recent months. The past months of November and December, workers of the company in different cities around the world staged the so-called “Google Walkouts”: protest demonstrations to report cases of sexual and labor harassment within the company, the salary difference between men and women and what they called a culture of impunity.
It is estimated that more than 20,000 workers participated in the protests, which took place in more than 50 cities. The success of its “activist workers” was such that in an e-mail sent to all its employees, Sundar Pichai promised that Google would terminate its mediation system in case of sexual harassment, modernize its investigation process, share data about reported cases and provide new support systems for people who report.
At the origin of this protest is a large report published by the New York Times in which it was reported that Google would have paid 90 million dollars to Andy Rubin (vice president of engineering at Google) to leave the company after being reported for harassment sexuality on the part of one of his subordinates.
Also published on Medium.