Google employees demand conservative AI ethics board member is sacked for ‘transphobia’ after she said you can’t ‘change the definition of women to include men’
- Kay Coles James is the president of conservative think-tank Heritage Foundation
- She was selected by Google to provide her opinions for the AI ethics board
- Her views clash with many of Google’s left-wing staff who are now protesting
- More than 1,000 Google staff have signed an open letter demanding her to be removed from the board
A group of Google employees are trying to remove a member of a newly-formed AI ethics board because her opinions do not match theirs.
Kay Coles James, president of conservative think-tank Heritage Foundation, was brought on-board last week by Google to provide a different viewpoint to that of Google’s left-wing staff.
The board, called the Advanced Technology External Advisory Council (ATEAC), consists of experienced industry experts who work in the field of artificial intelligence research.
Ms Coles is now at risk of being exiled from her latest post by the protest-prone employees.
Activists have lashed out at Ms Cole, who was selected by the search giant for her role so the council could offer a range of backgrounds and experience, saying she is ‘anti-trans, anti-LGBTQ and anti-immigrant’.
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Kay Coles James, pictured here with President Donald Tump (right) is the president of the conservative think-tank Heritage Foundation and was selected to its advisory panel made up of external experts despite her views contradicting those of Google’s
The protesters say in the open petition: ‘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.’
Google staffers are known for their willingness to protest, with employees previously voicing discontent at a range of the firm’s endeavours.
Google bosses are known to cave in to the demands of its staff, with it deciding not to renew a contract with the US military in June 2018 when the staff again protested.
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The group lobbying for her dismissal accepts that Ms James was brought on board to offer a diverse range of viewpoints and balance out Google’s well-known left-wing viewpoint.
Outlandish claims from the campaigners, who call themselves ‘Googlers Against Transfobia’, include the possibility her conservative opinions could build discrimination into super-smart machines.
WHO IS KAY COLES JAMES?
She is currently the president of the Heritage Foundation – the first African American woman to hold this position.
She served as the director for the United States Office of Personnel Management under George W. Bush from 2001 to 2005
Before that she she served as Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources.
Ms James is also a member of the NASA Advisory Council and is the president and founder of the Gloucester Institute, a leadership training centre for young African Americans.
Neither Google nor the Heritage Foundation immediately responded to requests for comment.
Petition backers said it launched with 580 signatures from academics, Google employees and others, including technology industry peers.
It currently sits at 1,098 Googlers who have signed the petition.
Google set up the external AI ethics council to guide the tech giant away from morally questionable uses of its technology and encroaching on the privacy of its customers.
It is intended to advise the search giant on matters relating to the development and application of its artificial intelligence research.
Google has been embroiled in past controversies regarding the use of its AI, as well as the way it protects the data it gathers.
Criticism of Ms James includes her history of being ‘vocally anti-trans, anti-LGBTQ and anti-immigrant’. Comments include a recent tweet, which read: ‘If they can change the definition of women to include men, they can erase efforts to empower women economically, socially, and politically’
WHO IS ON GOOGLE’S AI ETHICS BOARD?
- Alessandro Acquisti – s a Professor of Information Technology and Public Policy at the Heinz College, Carnegie Mellon University
- Bubacarr Bah – Assistant Professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stellenbosch University.
- De Kai – Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
- Dyan Gibbens – CEO of Trumbull, a Forbes Top 25 veteran-founded startup
- Joanna Bryson – Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Bath
- Kay Coles James – President of The Heritage Foundation
- Luciano Floridi – Professor of Philosophy and Ethics of Information at the University of Oxford
- William Joseph Burns – Former US deputy secretary of state
It established an internal AI ethics board in 2014 when it acquired DeepMind but this has been shrouded in secrecy with no details ever released about who it includes.
The firm is a world-leader in many aspects of AI and the eight people recruited for the advisory board will ‘consider some of Google’s most complex challenges’.
Members of the board include Joanna Bryson, an associate professor at the University of Bath and William Joseph Burns, former US deputy secretary of state.
The controversy over hwo is included on the board comes as the world grapples with balancing potential benefits of artificial intelligence with risks its could be used against people or even, if given a mind of its own, turn on its creators.
Google chief Sundar Pichai said in a published interview late last year that fears about artificial intelligence are valid but that the tech industry is up to the challenge of regulating itself.
Tech companies building AI should factor in ethics early in the process to make certain artificial intelligence with ‘agency of its own’ doesn’t hurt people, Mr Pichai said in an interview with The Washington Post.
Google chief Sundar Pichai says that fears about artificial intelligence are valid but that the tech industry is up to the challenge of regulating itself. The AI ethics board was specially curated to steer the Mountain View-based firm away from any controversies by ensuring it fully considers morality while developing its artificial intelligence (file photo)
The California-based internet giant is a leader in the development of AI, competing in the smart software race with giants such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook, IBM and Microsoft.
Last year, Google published a set of internal AI principles, the first being that AI should be socially beneficial.
Google vowed not to design or deploy AI for use in weapons, surveillance outside of international norms or in technology aimed at violating human rights.
The company noted that it would continue to work with the military or governments in areas such as cybersecurity, training, recruitment, health care and search-and-rescue.
AI is already used to recognize people in photos, filter unwanted content from online platforms and enable cars to drive themselves.
WHAT ARE SOME OF GOOGLE’S PAST CONTROVERSIES?
March 2019: Google refused to scrap a Saudi government app which lets men track and control women.
The tech giant says that software allowing men to keep tabs on women meets all of its terms and conditions.
October 2018: A software bug in Google+ meant that the personal information of ‘hundreds of thousands’ of users was exposed. The issue reportedly affected users on the site between 2015 and March 2018.
The bug allowed app developers to access information like names, email addresses, occupation, gender and more.
Google announced it would be shutting down the Google+ social network permanently, partly as a result of the bug.
It also announced other security features that meant apps would be required to inform users what data they will have access to. Users have to provide ‘explicit permission’ in order for them to gain access to it.
August 2018: A new investigation led by the Associated Press found that some Google apps automatically store time-stamped location data without asking – even when Location History has been paused.
The investigation found that the following functions were enabled by default:
- The Maps app storing a snapshot of where the user is when it is open
- Automatic weather updates on Android phones pinpointing to where the user is each time the forecast is refreshed
- Simple searchers, such as ‘chocolate chip cookies,’ or ‘kids science kits,’ tagging the user’s precise latitude and longitude – accurate to the square foot – and saving it to the Google account
This information was all logged as part of the ‘Web and App Activity feature, which does not specifically reference location information in its description.
July 2018: The EU fined Google $5 Billion in for shutting-out competitors by forcing major phone manufacturers including South Korea’s Samsung and China’s Huawei to pre-install its search engine and Google Chrome browser by default.
July 2018: The Wall Street Journal revealed that data privacy practices of Gmail means that it was common for third-party developers to read the contents of users’ Gmail messages.
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