Last week, in an effort to monitor the ethical development of artificial intelligence and presumably to assuage public concern, Google launched an eight-person advisory group dedicated to the task.
Controversially, Google included Heritage Foundation President Kay Cole James among the technologists and domain specialists on its newly minted Advanced Technology External Advisory Council (ATEAC).
The inclusion of leadership from the Heritage Foundation, a hyper-conservative think tank with vehemently anti-LGBT views and a deep track record of advocating for climate change denialism in the service of the oil and gas industry, would seem to be an odd fit for an AI council if not a downright puzzling one.
While the group’s less scientific views alone would seem to fly in the face of much of Google’s cutting-edge, scientifically grounded work, the inclusion of a figure openly dedicated to fighting against the rights of the transgender community is causing the company’s latest culture conflagration.
A group calling itself Googlers Against Transphobia in a petition denounced the company’s decision to include James:
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. Such a position directly contravenes Google’s stated values. Many have emphasized this publicly, and a professor appointed to ATEAC has already resigned in the wake of the controversy.
Following the announcement, the person who took credit for appointing James stood by the decision, saying that James was on the council to ensure “diversity of thought.” This is a weaponization of the language of diversity. By appointing James to the ATEAC, Google elevates and endorses her views, implying that hers is a valid perspective worthy of inclusion in its decision making. This is unacceptable.
The group has called on Google to remove James from the council, arguing that trans people are disproportionately vulnerable to technologies like AI, a problem compounded by the perspective of an advisor incapable of seeing trans people as people — one who casually called transgender women “biological males” just a few weeks ago. At the time of writing, 1,437 Googlers had signed the petition. When reached for comment about the Heritage Foundation’s presence on the ATEAC, Google declined to provide insight on the choice.