Google Disbands AI Advisory Council

Google has said it is “going back to the drawing board” as it considers the best guidance on ethical issues relating to artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

Late last month Google created the ‘Advanced Technology External Advisory Council (ATEAC)’, to offer guidance on the ethical use of AI.

Yet just a week later Google has announced it is “ending the council”, apparently due to staff concerns at the inclusion of two female members in the council.

Troubled week

“It’s become clear that in the current environment, ATEAC can’t function as we wanted,” Google said in a statement. “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.”

The eight-member council includes Joanna Bryson, an associate professor in computing at the University of Bath; William J. Burns, a former US deputy secretary of state, and leading mathematician Bubacarr Bah.

The creation of the council had come after Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai in June 2018 created new principles for AI use at Google, and pledged not to use AI for technology that causes injury to people.

But according to Vox.com, Google took the decision because of tensions with its staff and cancelled the council after less than one week.

Specifically the staff were angered about the inclusion of one person and the comments she had made about transsexual people.

And the inclusion of a drone company executive also prompted anger considering Google’s withdraw from a Pentagon drone project that utilised Google’s AI technology.

“Thousands of Google employees signed a petition calling for the removal of one board member, Heritage Foundation president Kay Coles James, over her comments about trans people and her organisation’s scepticism of climate change,” Vox reported. “Meanwhile, the inclusion of drone company CEO Dyan Gibbens reopened old divisions in the company over the use of the company’s AI for military applications.”

Board member Alessandro Acquisti had also announced his resignation from the board on Twitter, saying it wasn’t the right forum for him to continue dealing with “key ethical issues of fairness, rights & inclusion in AI.”

Project Maven

Google has had a chequered time with its AI development.

Last year it would not renew a contract to do artificial intelligence work for the US Pentagon.

The project was codenamed Project Maven, and Google’s decision to withdraw came after internal pressure from Google staff, some of whom had resigned over the matter.

Google’s involvement in Project Maven aimed to speed up the analysis of drone footage.

Essentially, the search engine giant was said to be using machine-learning algorithms and AI to help the US military assess drone footage quickly, in order to distinguish people and objects in drone videos.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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