Google is under fire from employees, tech experts, and members of the LGBTQ community for appointing Kay Coles James, president of the right-wing think tank the Heritage Foundation, to the company’s new ethics advisory board for artificial intelligence.
“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.”
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An open petition launched by Google employees Monday—which has garnered more than 800 signatures—decries James as “vocally anti-trans, anti-LGBTQ, and anti-immigrant.” It demands her immediate dismissal from Google’s Advanced Technology External Advisory Council (ATEAC), which weighs in on the “responsible development” of artificial intelligence, or AI.
Kent Walker, Google’s senior vice president for global affairs, announced the formation of ATEAC and the council’s members in a blog post last week.
“This group will consider some of Google’s most complex challenges that arise under our AI Principles,” Walker explained, “like facial recognition and fairness in machine learning, providing diverse perspectives to inform our work.”
Google’s stated AI Principles, unveiled last year, include the objectives to “be socially beneficial” and “avoid creating or reinforcing unfair bias.” The company also vows to not pursue technologies that cause or are likely to cause harm, or “whose purpose contravenes widely accepted principles of international law and human rights.”
Experts and human rights advocates have emphasized how AI technologies can disproportionately target and harm members of marginalized groups. As the petition explains:
According to Googlers Against Transphobia, the group of employees that launched the petition, “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.'”
Meanwhile, many employees were “livid.” As The Verge reported Monday:
Founded in 1973, the Heritage Foundation rose to national prominence during Ronald Reagan’s presidency and is known today for the role it has played in staffing the government with right-wingers under President Donald Trump’s administration.
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