A member of Google’s disbanded AI ethics council said on Wednesday that the company’s enormous global influence means it needs to be treated like a world power.
Joanna Bryson, an associate professor in computer science at the University of Bath, spoke about Google’s short-lived AI ethics council at the CognitionX conference in London. She was joined by De Kai, a fellow former council member and AI expert at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
The pair were speaking at a panel on governance and accountability in AI, and the moderator asked them to address the “elephant in the room.”
The Google council was disbanded in April after criticism of the appointment of Kay Coles James, the head of a right-wing thinktank who been accused of anti-LGBTQ and anti-immigrant rhetoric.
More than a thousand Google employees signed a petition to have James removed, arguing her inclusion undermined “Google’s position on AI ethics and fairness.”
Bryson suggested that the incident should prompt lawmakers around the world into thinking about how Google should be regulated, given its huge international reach.
“It’s worth engaging with Google because it is a world power, and it is because it’s a world power that they also need to engage with all sides of the political spectrum,” Bryson said.
“We need to start negotiating with these large organisations and figuring out how to govern them… A nation can govern the small or medium-sized companies in that government, but there is no one government that is in charge of all the countries where Google has impact.”
She added: “We need to figure out a way to bring this into the world order, including getting these companies to pay their taxes.”
After Google dissolved the council in April, Bryson hit out at the company saying it had “pulled the plug rather than defend themselves.”
De Kai took issue with the way the advisory council had been portrayed in the media as an independent oversight board. “If it’s a body set up by Google, how on earth could it be independent,” he said.
“This was designed to be an external advisory council that could bring in voices that could articulate cultures from outside the Google-California culture bubble. So that they could better be informed and think through, analyse the unintended consequences of policy decisions outside the California bubble.”
De Kai and Bryson said that they had been signed on to the council in October and November 2018 respectively, months before it was announced to the world.
De Kai also said he thought the “saga” of the Google ethics council had itself been impacted by AI because of the way the story spread across social media.
“I think that this blew up in a way amplified by AI because this came across every single feed, that it’s actually illustrative of the problems we face within AI,” he said.