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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.”
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
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.
Ummm, really @Google? You’re appointing someone to advise you on “responsibility” who heads one of the most disgustingly homophobic, transphobic, anti-#LGBTQ organizations in the country? #Shame on you for tapping Kay Coles James. https://t.co/xzDY7vQsmw @fakedansavage @cmclymer— (((John M. Becker))) (@freedom2marry) March 27, 2019
In pursuit of "AI ethics" Google set up an Advisory Council including the CEO of a drone surveillance company, and the virulently anti-trans, anti-immigrant, climate change-denying head of the Heritage Foundation. *This is appalling.* https://t.co/jAejnr4t7U— Meredith Whittaker (@mer__edith) March 27, 2019
Google: We gonna setup a heavyweight council to reduce bias in AI.— Atrisha Sarkar (@atrishasarkar) March 26, 2019
Y'all: okay, so finally you'll address the problematic use of AI against vulnerable communities.
Google: What? No. There's a breitbart article on anti-conservative bias in tech. That's the bias we will reduce.
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.”
Alex Dalbey is a writer and zinester currently living in Saint Paul, Minnesota. They have written for The Daily Dot, Kill Screen, The Lingerie Addict, and Bullet Points.