Google set up an external ethics council for AI, but one of its members was called out for her views on trans people and immigration

GettyGoogle CEO Sundar Pichai.
  • Google on Tuesday announced a new external ethics council which will examine its development of AI.
  • Google VP of Global Affairs Kent Walker said the group will look at ethical problems including “facial recognition and fairness in machine learning.”
  • One of the council’s members heads up a conservative US think-tank, and was criticised by a Washington University researcher for her views on trans people and immigration.

Google has set up a new external ethics council to oversee its development of AI, but one of its members has been criticised for her views on trans people and immigration.

Google’s VP of Global Affairs Kent Walker announced the new Advanced Technology External Advisory Council (ATEAC) at MIT Tech Review’s EmTech Digital conference on Tuesday.

“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,” Walker said in a blogpost.

Google has stoked anger around its development of AI in the past. In June last year, it killed off Project Maven – its military drone project – after a dozen employees resigned in protest.


Read more:
Why it’s totally unsurprising that Amazon’s recruitment AI was biased against women

Walker added that the council will meet four times over the course of 2019, starting in April. Google plans to publish a report summarising the meetings.

The eight-person council comprises mostly of AI researchers and academics, although two members have been active in American politics: William Joseph Burns and Kay Coles James.

Kay Coles James called out for her views

William Joseph Burns was Barack Obama’s deputy secretary of state from 2011 to 2014, and prior to that was ambassador to Jordan and Russia.

Kay Coles James is president of the conservative think-tank the Heritage Foundation, and some critics flagged up that James has espoused anti-LGBTQ and anti-immigrant views.

Kate Crawford, cofounder of the AI Now Institute, said “important concerns” had been raised about James’ appointment.

Os Keyes, a researcher at the University of Washington, criticised Google’s appointment of James saying she “hates trans people foreigners, and the environment.”

Unversity of Washington researcher Anna Lauren Hoffmann said James, “openly opposes LGBTQ equality.”

James has previously opposed allowing “biological males” in women’s bathrooms, according to a tweet, and supported Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency over his proposed border wall as “thousands of illegal aliens, dangerous criminals, drug smugglers and sex traffickers crossing [sic] the border every day.”

Kay Coles James Donald TrumpChip Somodevilla/Getty ImagesKay Coles James sits next to Donald Trump during a meeting of conservative leaders in January.

Verge writer Nick Statt speculated that James’ appointment could be aimed at appeasing Republican lawmakers, following accusations of anti-conservative bias at Google.

Google and James (via the Heritage Foundation) were not immediately available for comment when contacted by Business Insider.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.