Google CEO Sundar Pichai has made a clear statement about the company’s ethical standards. Pichai has made clear in lengthy note published recently that Google will not use artificial intelligence(AI) “to cause overall harm” or manufacture weapons. This move that comes at the backdrop of internal protests amongst Google employees against a contract that had been signed with the Pentagon. Employees were dissenting against what they felt was a departure from the company’s once well-known slogan ‘Don’t be Evil’.
It is reported that the employees wrote demanding the Project Maven to be cancelled, as they felt Google should not be involved in the business of warfare. They also asked for the enforcement and publicization of a clear policy stating that Google and its contractors will refrain from building warfare technology. Though the recently published AI principles do not mention Project Maven directly it does make a commitment to not engage in the creation of any technology that will inflict injury and cause harm to people. However, Pichai has pointed out that Google still plans to collaborate with the military in “many other areas”. These areas include military recruitment, training, veterans’ healthcare, cybersecurityetc. Pichai feels that such collaborations are essential to ensure the safety of civilians and service members.
Critics were quick to point out the ambiguous use of language which may give Google enough leeway to compromise with the announced standards. For instance, in case of risks Google pledges to proceed only when benefits substantially outweigh risks. This can be used to justify moves that might not meet its claims.
The move also claims to also boycott technologies used for surveillance and gathering information which contravene Internationally accepted norms and human rights principle. It is unclear as to how far the new principles will go to address the concern of the remonstrating employees, but they surely will have wide ranging impacts. Though other companies haven’t faced similar condemnation lately over military contracts yet Google’s initiative might mount the pressure on them to come up with such commitments.
Pichai’s principles also emphasized on issues outside of government engagement like privacy concerns which has been a burning issue recently. It also pledges to avoid creating or strengthening unfair biases. Such issues have become a major concern which tech companies are still grappling with. While many experts have endorsed such measures, most organizations are still figuring out as they move along.
With a company like Google making such a crucial public commitment it has certainly set an example for others to follow.