News & Insights for the AI Journey|Monday, June 24, 2019
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Ethical Dispute Ends Google’s AI Ethics Panel 

An ethical debate over membership on Google’s AI ethics advisory board has shut down the controversial panel before it ever convened.

Google also lost a top AI researcher to rival Apple.

Announced last week, Google confirmed to the web site Vox it is ending its Advanced Technology External Advisory Council (ATEAC). The decision reportedly comes in response to an internal uproar over panel membership, including an employee petition calling for the removal of Kay Coles James, president of the Heritage Foundation, for her anti-immigrant, anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ stances.

Days after Google unveiled its AI advisory panel, privacy researcher Alessandro Acquisti announced he was declining the search giant’s (NASDAQ: GOOGL) invitation. “While I'm devoted to research grappling with key ethical issues of fairness, rights [and] inclusion in AI, I don't believe this is the right forum for me to engage in this important work,” Acquisti tweeted.

Vox reported that other members of the Google AI panel have been pressured to justify remaining on the panel. As opposition grew to the makeup of the eight-member council, Google pulled the plug.

In a statement to Vox on Thursday (April 4), the company said: “It’s become clear that in the current environment, ATEAC can’t function as we wanted. So we’re ending the council and going back to the drawing board.”

The eight-member AI panel was scheduled to hold is first meeting in April.

The controversy over the Google AI advisory panel illustrates the passions engendered by the promise and pitfalls of expanding AI technology. Earlier this year, lawmakers jumped into the fray with a non-binding House resolution advocating guidelines for “ethical development” of AI technologies.

Among the co-sponsors was Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., whose district includes parts of Silicon Valley.

Those and other industry efforts have created a highly politicized debate over what might be called meta-ethics, as in: Who gets to decide what is or is not ethical AI?

Adding to its AI woes, a senior Google AI researcher was hired away by Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL). Ian Goodfellow, updated his LinkedIn profile in late March announcing his new title as director of machine learning in Apple’s Special Projects Group.

Goodfellow is credited with developing an AI approach called general adversarial networks.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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