Google has disbanded its controversial external AI ethics advisory board less than two weeks after it was formed.
Earlier this week, more than 1,200 Google employees started a petition urging Google to remove Kay Coles James, president of the right-wing think tank the Heritage Foundation, from the Advanced Technology External Advisory Council. Outside academics and tech experts signed onto the petition, which called into question her inclusion on a board that was supposed to consider ethical issues related to artificial intelligence.
James has tweeted anti-trans sentiment, including disparaging the proposed Equality Act. She has also expressed agreement with President Donald Trump’s statements about immigration and a crisis at the border.
Other members of the board had reportedly quit since the controversy over James’ appointment.
“It’s become clear that in the current environment, ATEAC can’t function as we wanted,” a Google spokesperson said late Thursday. “So we’re ending the council and going back to the drawing board. We’ll continue to be responsible in our work on the important issues that AI raises, and will find different ways of getting outside opinions on these topics.”
Google — which like other tech companies faces accusations of liberal bias — formed the external ethics council after unveiling AI principles last year. CEO Sundar Pichai announced the principles after employee protests over Project Maven, which used Google’s AI to improve accuracy of drone strikes. Among those principles is a promise to avoid creating or reinforcing unfair bias.
On Monday, the company’s employees urged the removal of James in a Medium post titled “Googlers Against Transphobia and Hate.”