A growing percentage of Google employees aren’t too pleased with a new member of the company’s Advanced Technology Ethics Advisory Council.
On Monday, 662 Googlers (at press time) signed a petition calling for the removal of Kay Coles James, the current president of the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation. James currently sits on the newly formed council, which helps the Silicon Valley giant make decisions on AI tools and new technologies.
Google’s workforce takes specific issue with James’s reportedly transphobic and anti-LGBT statements. The letter links to several of James’s controversial tweets, including one that criticized powerful nations’ “radical” redefining of sex and gender.
“If they can change the definition of women to include men, they can erase efforts to empower women economically, socially, and politically,” she tweeted earlier this month.
The #EqualityAct is anything but equality. This bill would shut down businesses and charities, politicize medicine, endanger parental rights, and open every female bathroom and sports team to biological males. Learn more here: https://t.co/eJPDvfJKEs
— Kay Coles James (@KayColesJames) March 21, 2019
Employees also took offense to what they say is James’s anti-immigrant stance. However, they only provided one example, in which the think tank president referenced illegal aliens crossing the border, in addition to criminals and sex traffickers. It did not reference immigrants as a whole.
The letter argues that James’s appointment to the council “significantly” undermines Google’s position on AI ethics.
“The potential harms of AI are not evenly distributed, and follow historical patterns of discrimination and exclusion. From AI that doesn’t recognize trans people, doesn’t ‘hear’ more feminine voices, and doesn’t ‘see’ women of color, to AI used to enhance police surveillance, profile immigrants, and automate weapons — those who are most marginalized are most at risk,” reads the statement. “Not only are James’s views counter to Google’s stated values, but they are directly counter to the project of ensuring that the development and application of AI prioritizes justice over profit.”
According to sources who spoke to The Verge, there are also those within Google who defended the appointment. Some employees believe it’s a step forward to bringing to more views and discussion around AI technologies.
“Google cannot claim to support trans people and its trans employees — a population that faces real and material threats — and simultaneously appoint someone committed to trans erasure to a key AI advisory position,” ended the petition.