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@KayColesJames / Twitter Alex Dalbey

Google appoints transphobic official to its AI ethics board

She has worked for multiple anti-LGBTQ ‘family values’ organizations.


Alex Dalbey


Posted on Mar 28, 2019   Updated on May 20, 2021, 4:07 pm CDT

Google is facing backlash over appointing a member who has a history of anti-LGBTQ values to its AI ethics board.

In a statement on March 26,  Google announced the Advanced Technology External Advisory Council (ATEAC), a board with eight members set up to handle the issues of AI ethics that Google expects it will be facing as AI technology advances. “This group will consider some of Google’s most complex challenges that arise under our AI Principles, like facial recognition and fairness in machine learning, providing diverse perspectives to inform our work,” wrote Kent Walker, senior vice president of global affairs at Google. The statement introduced the eight members of the council, who will meet four times over the course of 2019.

One particular appointee stood out to some on Twitter: Kay Coles James. The bio for James in the Google statement says she is “a public policy expert” who is currently the president of the Heritage Foundation, “focusing on free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom and national defense.”

It didn’t take long for people to point out that “limited government” to the Heritage organization sometimes means “making sure people can discriminate against LGBTQ folks.” Just a week ago, James and the Heritage Foundation put out a statement about the Equality Act, claiming it would “shut down” businesses and “politicize” medicine by forcing them to provide the same service and care to LGBTQ people as they do to cisgender and heterosexual people. Her language was also explicitly transphobic, referring to trans women as “biological males.”

James’ history of bigotry stretches far back, to her time as senior vice president on the Family Research Council, a Southern Poverty Law Center-identified anti-gay hate group. People on Twitter criticized Google for the appointment, questioning how someone who is against equal rights for LGBTQ people could possibly be qualified for an ethics council.

Joanna Bryson, a psychology and AI ethics expert who is also on the ATEAC, said on Twitter that she had expressed to Google concern for discriminatory associations, but “they say they need diversity in order to be convincing to society broadly, e.g. the GOP.”

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*First Published: Mar 28, 2019, 11:20 am CDT