A number of Google employees have penned a letter calling for the removal of Kay Cole James, president of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative right-wing think tank, from Google's external AI ethics council, calling her "vocally anti-trans, anti-LGBTQ and anti-immigrant".
"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," read the letter entitled Googlers Against Transphobia and Hate. "Such a position directly contravenes Google's stated values."
At the time of its release, the letter had signatures from 16 Google employees and around 40 others, including Stanford, Harvard and NYU academics. At the time of this article's publication, 1,098 'Googlers' had signed the document.
Heritage has historically lobbied against LQBTQ discrimination protections and recently hosted a panel of anti-transgender activists. James herself also spoke out against the UN Commission on the Status of Women earlier this month.
Today @heritage will critique gender identity @UN_CSW because powerful nations are pressing for the radical redefining of sex. If they can change the definition of women to include men, they can erase efforts to empower women economically, socially, and politically. #CSW63
— Kay Coles James (@KayColesJames) 20 March 2019
Google's AI ethics council was created in an effort to reduce unfair bias in its AI as it has been proven to reflect the prejudices of the data sets that its algorithms utilize, so appointing such a controversial figure to the council could hinder the impact of the work, the 'Googlers' claimed.
"The potential harms of AI are not evenly distributed, and follow historical patterns of discrimination and exclusion," the letter read. "From AI that doesn't recognize trans people, doesn't 'hear' more feminine voices and doesn't 'see' women of color, to AI used to enhance police surveillance, profile immigrants, and automate weapons – those who are most marginalized are most at risk.
"Not only are James' views counter to Google's stated values, but they are directly counter to the project of ensuring that the development and application of AI prioritizes justice over profit," the letter added. "Such a project should instead place representatives from vulnerable communities at the center of decision-making."