Google has cancelled its AI ethics panel one week after it was announced. The move comes after a week of controversy regarding the company’s selection of members. The participants of its Advanced Technology External Advisory Council (ATEAC) were announced on March 26.
The members of the panel included a privacy researcher, a drone company chief executive, a former U.S. diplomat, and computer science and mathematics experts. The group had intended to meet four times this year and create reports for Google on the conversations.
In a statement about the creation of the panel, Google’s senior vice president of global affairs, Kent Walker, said, “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.”
Protests over the addition of a rightwing thinktank leader accused of being an anti-LGBT advocate to the council appeared to be the downfall of the panel. Kay Coles James, president of the Heritage Foundation, was offered a place on the team, prompting questions by both employees and outsiders. The Heritage Foundation is a conservative thinktank with close ties to Donald Trump’s administration.
More than 2,300 Google employees signed a petition calling for Google to take Coles James off the council. The letter calling for James’s removal stated: “Google is making clear that its version of ‘ethics’ values proximity to power over the wellbeing of trans people, other LGBTQ people and immigrants.” Prominent academics and advocates from outside the company also signed onto the letter.
Google wrote in a statement: “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. 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’s statement did not mention James or the letter from employees.