- A Google research scientist has quit in protest of Google’s possible re-entry to China, according to a new report.
- Jack Poulson told his bosses he was forced to resign in order to avoid contributing to, or profiting from, the failure to protect dissidents.
- He also said that he believes he is one of five Googlers who have quit in protest.
Jack Poulson, a senior Google research scientist, has put his money where his mouth is.
He resigned his position in protest to Google’s possible re-entry to China, The Intercept reported Thursday.
Google management last month acknowledged that it has considered returning to the communist country. A return would mean conceding to demands made by the Chinese government that Google censor information.
The company has already built a search engine that would do just that, according to reports. From the Intercept’s story:
“In early August, Poulson raised concerns with his managers at Google after The Intercept revealed that the internet giant was secretly developing a Chinese search app for Android devices. The search system, code-named Dragonfly, was designed to remove content that China’s authoritarian government views as sensitive, such as information about political dissidents, free speech, democracy, human rights, and peaceful protest.”
The past year has seen thousands of Google employees reject some of management’s business decisions. Earlier this year, more than 4,000 employees signed a petition that demanded Google’s managers stop working with the US military. In a secret deal, Google provided AI tools to the Pentagon that helped analyse drone video footage.
Google responded by issuing a set of principles that Pichai said would guide the company’s use of AI. Among them is a promise to never build AI-enhanced weapons and to never create technology “whose purpose contravenes widely accepted principles of international law and human rights.”
“It is our policy to not comment on individual employees,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement.
Previously, Google has said that the work on a search engine for the Chinese market was “exploratory” and CEO Sundar Pichai has said that any reintroduction into China of Google search is not imminent. The news that Google’s leadership might be willing to censor information stunned and bewildered some rank-and-file employees.
Google stopped offering search in China in 2010, saying it could not agree to censorship. The consequences to Google’s moral stances have meant lost revenue in the years since. China is a massive and growing market and military contracts are potentially worth billions. Still, many of Google’s employees have said that they joined the company because of management’s willingness to make exactly these kinds of decisions.
Poulson told The Intercept that he believes he is one of five employees who have quit. He also said that he believes that if Google censors information in China, it is violating the company’s AI principles.
Poulson joins Tyler Breisacher, a former Google software developer, and a dozen or so other Google employees who quit in response to the company’s military efforts.
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