Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

  • Over a thousand Google employees have signed a petition calling for the removal of Kay Coles James, the president of the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank, from Google's recently announced artificial-intelligence ethics board.
  • James has previously made anti-trans comments, including calling transgender women "biological males".
  • Googlers Against Transphobia, the group behind the petition, wrote that for Google to appoint James to the ethics board "elevates and endorses her views, implying that hers is a valid perspective worthy of inclusion in its decision making".
  • Already, Alessandro Acquisti, a leading behavioural economist and privacy researcher, has stepped down from the board, saying he did not think it was "the right forum for me to engage in this important work".

Googlers are speaking out against a conservative appointee to its recently announced artificial-intelligence ethics board over her previous statements on transgender rights.

As of Monday, over a thousand Google employees had signed a petition calling for the removal of Kay Coles James, the president of the right-wing Heritage Foundation think tank, who has previously made anti-trans comments, including calling transgender women "biological males".

The group, known as Googlers Against Transphobia, wrote in its blog post announcing the petition that for Google to appoint James to the ethics board "elevates and endorses her views, implying that hers is a valid perspective worthy of inclusion in its decision making."

"This is unacceptable," the post said.

The group also described James as "anti-LGBTQ" and "anti-immigrant" for her previous public comments.

Google did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment on the petition.

According to Googlers Against Transphobia, the person responsible for appointing James to the ethics board said her inclusion was meant to help foster "diversity of thought."

The group said that her addition "significantly undermines Google's position on AI ethics and fairness" and that because "the potential harms of AI are not evenly distributed," people "who are most marginalised are most at risk".

Google last Tuesday announced the AI ethics board, called the Advanced Technology External Advisory Council, as a way for the company to address difficult ethical decisions it faces with AI.

"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," Google's senior vice president of global affairs, Kent Walker, wrote in a blog post announcing the board.

Controversy followed almost immediately after the Heritage Foundation president was named to the eight-person council, with some speculating that her addition was Google's attempt to appease conservative lawmakers who have accused the tech giant of anti-conservative bias.

Read more: 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

Already, Alessandro Acquisti, a leading behavioral economist and privacy researcher, has stepped down from Google's ethics board, saying he did not think it was "the right forum for me to engage in this important work."

Numerous academics, among others, have also signed the petition calling for James' removal.

For more go to Business Insider South Africa.

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