Google Cancels AI Ethics Board Just One Week After Formation

Today, Google revealed that it has disbanded a short-lived, external advisory council with the purpose of monitoring its use of artificial intelligence, following a week of controversy regarding Google’s selection of members. The decision is largely due to backlash over the board’s inclusion of Heritage Foundation president Kay Coles James, a well-known conservative figure who has openly preached anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and, through the Heritage Foundation, fought efforts to extend rights to transgender individuals and to combat climate change.

Following a week of controversy regarding Google’s selection of members, Google revealed that it has disbanded its AI Council.

Following a week of controversy regarding Google’s selection of members, Google revealed that it has disbanded its AI Council.

The board, named the Advanced Technology External Advisory Council (ATEAC), included a number of notable academics in fields ranging from AI and philosophy to psychology and robotics. But it also included those with policy backgrounds, such as James and members of former US presidential administrations.

The goal was to inform Google’s AI work and to ensure it was following its AI Principles, set out last year by Google CEO Sundar Pichai, after the news that the company was participating in a Pentagon drone project that used the company’s machine learning research. Google has since said it will stop working on this project and has promised never to develop AI weaponry or work on any project or application of AI that violates “internationally accepted norms” or “widely accepted principles of international law and human rights.”

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. 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.
— a Google spokesperson

The destruction of the council is yet another victory for Google employees. Over the last few years, post the firing of James Damore, members of the search giant have mounted successful efforts within the company to enact change around the treatment of female employees, unfair and exploitative policies and participation in defence-related government programs. The Google walkout in 2018, which had more than 20,000 employees protest the way Google protects male employees who sexual harass female coworkers, has led to an up-swell in employee activism. Now, the company’s leadership tends to face significant collective action around any hot topic the company finds itself embroiled in.