Google dismantles ATEAC, the AI Ethics Council within a week.




Owing to recent outcry from Google employees and many other renowned people across different spectrums, Google decided to pull the plug on ATEAC, Advanced Technology External Advisory Council. But it was not all bad a council, which was shadowed by the selection of one or two controversial names. While its over now, it is a serious debate on whether Google could have fixed this considering the mammoth scale and impact the programme could have created. This blog looks at the reason why ATEAC was setup, reputation of its members including the controversial ones. 

As an extension to Google’s AI principles published in 2018, which included being socially beneficial, avoiding unfair bias, being accountable to people amongst others an advanced technology external advisory council – ATEAC was announced on 26th March 2019. Few complex challenges that AI practitioners and businesses across the globe are around the dilemma of being ethical or fair. Google called out aspects like facial recognition, fairness in machine learning, providing diverse perspectives to inform their work as some of their key challenges.

The external group formed was to review and implement the AI principles. Part of the reason is around the recent backlash around facial recognition mismatching people of colour, voice recognition missing accents etc. Over the course of 2019, the group was supposed to meet four times to be informed on Google’s work and discuss other developments in the technology spectrum broadly. It was also expected that an annual report would be published.

Google was spot on in Sundar Pichai’s press release around AI principles and was widely appreciated by the technology world. However, the ATEAC which was formed to strengthen implementation of these principles fairly landed into trouble mainly because of the individuals selected in the council.

There were some renowned members in the council that included,

Alessandro Acquisti – Researcher & Behavioural Economist. Watch is talk on data privacy here 

Bubacarr Bah – Renowned Mathematician & Researcher. Here’s his views on strengthening Africa’s machine learning. 

De Kai – AI Researcher & Professor. Take a look at his work on his website.  

Joanna Bryson – Professor & Leader in AI Ethics. Her notable work is around Lego Mindstorms. Joanna took to twitter and expressed her frustration on Google dismantling the council rather than trying to fix it. 

Joanna Bryson’s talk on ‘Is AI changing us?’ 

William Joseph Burns – a foreign policy expert.

However, there were two members whose selection was not appreciated by many. The most important one -a  policy expert & associated with the current federal government.

Kay Coles James, a public policy expert and President of the Heritage foundation. Google employees initiated a signature campaign against her selection which received a great response & is considered to be the key trigger forcing google to pull the plug.

She has vocally expressed views which are considered anti-immigration, anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ.

The other, Dyan Gibbens – CEO of Trumbull. While Dyan is an accomplished business woman, her being CEO of a drone surveillance company did not make a strong case for her to be included in the ethics council. Here’s what Meredit Whittaker had to tweet.  

We will have to wait and see on what is next. One cannot agree more with Joanna Bryson that this is an issue far more important than the controversy around one or two members in the council. Probably, it was not easy a fix and the only option available was to go back to the drawing board. 


           





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