Google Shuts Down Controversial AI Council

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Google Shuts Down Controversial AI Council

Anya Yang, Staff Writer

Google recently stated that its newly announced artificial intelligence (AI) ethics council would be shut down, after over a week of intense backlash due to members of the group.  

Named the Advanced Technology External Advisory Council (ATEAC), this group was made up of AI professionals that worked outside of Google. The goal of the organization was to help Google with its work on AI projects, and fix small bugs like inaccurate facial recognition and bias in machine learning. However, the council faced severe controversy because of member Kay Coles James, who is president of the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation.

Approximately 2,400 Google employees (known as the “Googlers Against Transphobia”) signed a petition on the website Medium demanding that the company remove James from the council, bringing up her anti-LGBTQ views and openly transphobic public statements. Several of James’ recent Twitter posts criticize the Equality Act, which aims to halt discrimination based on gender identity, sex, and sexual orientation. On Twitter, James called the bill “anything but equality” and said it would “open every female bathroom and sports team to biological males.”

“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,” Googlers Against Transphobia argued in their open letter to the company.

The movement to remove James from the AI council was well-supported over social media, and Googlers Against Transphobia thanked supporters for their support and “unwillingness to compromise on hate.”

Kent Walker, Google’s senior vice president for global affairs, first announced the establishment of the council. He explained that the central purpose of the group was to “inform both our own work and the broader technology sector.” The plan was for the members of the group to serve until 2019 and hold four meetings. Google said it would then release reports based on those conferences.  

Alessandro Acquisti, an influential behavioral economist and researcher, subsequently stepped down from the council, stating that he didn’t think it was “the right forum for me to engage in this important work.”

In a statement, Google explained that it has “become clear that in the current environment” the ATEAC “can’t function” as the company wanted. “So we’re ending the council and going back to the drawing board. 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,” Google announced.


Photo courtesy of CNET.COM