Decision comes after employees called for the removal of a rightwing thinktank leader from the council
Google is ending a new artificial intelligence ethics council just one week after launching it, following protests from employees over the appointment of a rightwing thinktank leader.
The rapid downfall of the Advanced Technology External Advisory Council (ATEAC), which was dedicated to the responsible development of AI, came after more than 2,000 Google workers signed a petition criticizing the companys selection of an anti-LGBT advocate.
Its become clear that in the current environment, ATEAC cant function as we wanted. So were ending the council and going back to the drawing board, a Google spokesperson told the Guardian in a statement on Thursday.
Google faced intense backlash soon after announcing that one of the eight council members was Kay Coles James, the president of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative thinktank with close ties to Donald Trumps administration.
On Monday, dozens of Google employees signed a letter calling for Jamess removal, saying, Google is making clear that its version of ethics values proximity to power over the wellbeing of trans people, other LGBTQ people and immigrants. By Thursday, more than 2,300 Google workers had signed the letter, along with prominent academics and advocates from outside the company.
Google originally said it was bringing together diverse perspectives to advise on ethical questions related to facial recognition and machine learning. The other seven members included computer science and mathematics experts, a privacy researcher, a drone company chief executive and a former US diplomat.
Alessandro Acquisti, a privacy expert appointed to ATEAC, had already resigned by the time Google ended the council. Luciano Floridi, a University of Oxford professor on the council, had defended his decision to remain on the board with James, but denounced her views.
Well continue to be responsible in our work on the important issues that AI raises, and will find different ways of getting outside opinions on these topics, Google said in its statement Thursday, which did not mention James or the letter from employees.
Employees at Google have continued to push for reforms through activism and labor organizing over the past year. Notably, workers led massive global walkouts to protest against sexual misconduct, prompting executives to agree to some policy changes.
Os Keys, a PhD student at the University of Washingtons data ecologies laboratory, who was outspoken about Jamess appointment, said the councils demise demonstrated that solidarity, organizing and collective action works, adding, Im glad its been shut down. But it does not change the issue that Google was comfortable appointing her.
The letter calling for Jamess removal noted that the potential harms of AI follow historical patterns of discrimination and exclusion. It cited examples of AI that has failed to recognize trans people and does not see women of color.
The Heritage Foundation did not respond to requests for comment.