Google cancels AI ethics board amid controversy

After just a week, Google's AI ethics panel has been disbanded following heavy criticism of several of the board members from thousands of 'Googlers'

5Apr

Just over a week after it was formed, Google has pulled the plug on its AI ethics board amid an outcry over its decision to appoint several controversial figures. The company confirmed the news during an interview with Vox on April 5.

The panel was created to add outside perspective to Google's AI ethics work, with the aim to guide "responsible development of AI". It was supposed to be made up of eight members that met four times throughout 2019 to discuss concerns about Google's AI program, such as AI's role in military operations and how AI can enable authoritarian states.

However, 'Googlers' were openly critical of the members of the board from the very start. Earlier this week, thousands of employees and academics signed a letter calling for the removal of Heritage Foundation president Kay ColesJames. The letter accused her of having "vocally anti-trans, anti-LGBTQ and anti-immigrant" views, which were dangerous because "the potential harms of AI are not evenly distributed and follow historical patterns of discrimination and exclusion".

The decision to include Dyan Gibbens, founder and CEO of drone company Trumbell Unmanned, in the panel also attracted strong criticism because of concerns over the use of AI in military, something many 'Googlers' have been vehemently against.

Meanwhile, board member Alessandro Acquisti resigned while Joanna Bryson claimed of James "believe it or not, I know worse about one of the other people". Fellow board members were bombarded with demands to defend their decisions to stay on.

"It's become clear that in the current environment, ATEAC can't function as we wanted. So we're ending the council and going back to the drawing board," a spokesperson for Google told Vox. "We'll 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."

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