Google’s AI Ethics Board Swamped With Issues Before It Was Dissolved, Experts Say

Sundar Pichai
Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks during the Google keynote address at the Gaming Developers Conference in San Francisco, California, U.S., March 19, 2019. (Photo: REUTERS/Stephen Lam)

Google on Thursday confirmed the dissolution of its AI (artificial intelligence) ethics board following the union of thousands of its employees in a petition to remove one of the board members for her blunder against trans people.

The AI ethics board was established just a little over a week from Thursday's dissolution. According to Vox and multiple other outlets, the new committee already started falling apart even before Google canceled it.

In its statement following the establishment of the board called the Advanced Technology External Advisory Council (ATEAC), Google said it was founded for the purpose of ensuring "responsible development of AI" in the American tech firm. 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.

When Google announced the names of its ATEAC board members, employees and industry experts immediately questioned the addition of Kay Coles James, Heritage Foundation President, to the panel. In the petition signed by thousands of Google employees, James was described as "vocally anti-trans, anti-LGBTQ, and anti-immigrant."

Aside from external calls for James to be removed from the panel, Professor of Philosophy and Ethics of Information at the University of Oxford, Luciano Floridi, expressed disappointment over Google's committee members choice. In a post on Facebook, Florida said he was against the idea of having James in the council.

Days after the AI ethics board was announced, Professor of Information Technology and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University, Alessandro Acquisti, tweeted that he declined the offer to become a member of the council. He said he believes ATEAC is not the "right forum for me to engage in this important work."

Google said that while the project has been thrown out the window, the online search behemoth will continue to work responsibly in resolving problems acquainted with its use of artificial intelligence. The firm said it will turn to "outside opinions" on AI-related topics.

Meanwhile, the U.S. tech giant continues to work on ways to better serve its thousands of employees amid backlash over the disbanded AI ethics board and previous complaints about its lack of benefits for temporary workers.

Regular employees and contractors united to call for justice over the sudden layoff of 24 contract programmers. Increased scrutiny and pressure from regular workers and contractors alike pushed Google to require contract firms to offer benefits to employees who temporarily work for the company.

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. The temporary employees have stated that they worked on Google Assistant's voice so it will be available in over 50 languages.

Over the last few years, Google employees have been uniting to push for reforms in the company's workforce standards. The two developments are viewed by analysts as a pivotal breakthrough in allowing for the dissolution of unfair and unethical practices.

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