Published: Mon, April 08, 2019
Tech | By Constance Martin

Google to pull plug on AI ethics council

Google to pull plug on AI ethics council

When Google chose to disband the board, the company released a statement which reads: "It's become clear that in the current environment, ATEAC [Advanced Technology External Advisory Council] can't function as we wanted".

The eight-member board was expected to meet four times this year, but Google said Thursday the council had been dissolved - largely because of controversy about several of its members.

The goal was ostensibly to inform Google's AI work and to ensure it was following its AI Principles, set out previous year by CEO Sundar Pichai after revelations the company was participating in a Pentagon drone project that made use of the company's machine learning research. Hundreds of employees signed a petition circulating last week to remove Kay Coles James, president of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, citing concerns about her positions on gay and transgender people.

Workers set up the booth for Alphabet Inc's Google inside the National Exhibition and Convention Center, the venue for the upcoming China International Import Expo (CIIE), in Shanghai, China October 28, 2018. The issues that the board was supposed to address range from military applications of artificial intelligence and AI development programs as well as potential risks in AI algorithms.

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And on Wednesday, Luciano Floridi, professor of Philosophy and Ethics of Information at the University of Oxford and another person Google chose for the council, said that while he did not agree with the views of Coles James and the Heritage Foundation, he also felt he should nevertheless be involved. The spokesperson added they are ending the board and later on will renew it, and will treasure various methods of receiving external opinions on these issues. A political stance that essentially took the neutrality of the board away and one which Google eventually realised was against its intended objective. Needless to say, the main goal of ATEAC was lost amid controversy and Google had to make a choice.

Internet giant Google says it will seek alternative ways to gather outside input regarding the responsible use of AI.

The makeup of the board faced fierce backlash the same day it was announced, and that backlash only intensified both within and outside the company in the following days.

Google's contract employees who account for about 54 percent of the company's total workforce count, do not receive the same benefits and pay that 90,000 other full-time workers.

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