Google workers push to remove Heritage president from AI council citing 'anti-trans' record

A group of Google employees is pushing the company to remove Heritage Foundation President Kay Coles James from its new artificial intelligence (AI) council.

The workers, identified as "Googlers Against Transphobia and Hate," say James's record on trans and immigrant rights should disqualify her from serving on the newly announced council dedicated to ethics in AI.

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"In selecting James, Google is making clear that its version of 'ethics' values proximity to power over the wellbeing of trans people, other LGBTQ people, and immigrants," the group wrote in a letter, which began circulating internally on Monday at the company. As of the middle of the day Monday, the letter had been signed by more than 855 Google employees.

The letter had also received support from dozens of researchers, professors and civil society activists, with more expected throughout the day. 

The Heritage Foundation is a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C. 

Google last week announced the creation of its Advanced Technology External Advisory Council (ATEAC), tasked with advising Google on the "responsible development and use of AI" in its research and products.

The council was created in the wake of rising concern over big tech's creation of AI products, including facial recognition technology.  

In the open letter, the Google employees and researchers wrote that appointing James to the council "significantly undermines Google’s position on AI ethics and fairness," pointing out that there have been consistent civil rights concerns around some AI technology. Some AI products have failed to recognize trans people, misheard "feminine" voices and have misidentified women of color at higher rates. 

And many of the ethical concerns around AI have revolved around its use by law and immigration enforcement agencies.

"Not only are James’ views counter to Google’s stated values, but they are directly counter to the project of ensuring that the development and application of AI prioritizes justice over profit," they wrote. 

The group is pointing to previous statements by James, who said last month that the Equality Act — federal legislation that would ensure civil rights for LGBTQ people — would "open every female bathroom and sports team to biological males." 

One of the council's original members, leading behavior economist and privacy researcher Alessandro Acquisti, last week announced that he has declined to serve on the panel.

"I'd like to share that I've declined the invitation to the ATEAC council," Acquisti tweeted. "While I'm devoted to research grappling with key ethical issues of fairness, rights & inclusion in AI, I don't believe this is the right forum for me to engage in this important work." 

Acquisti did not respond to The Hill's request for comment on whether he left the council due to the controversy over James. 

The letter goes on to say the appointment of James “elevates and endorses her views.”

"Following the announcement, the person who took credit for appointing James stood by the decision, saying that James was on the council to ensure 'diversity of thought,' " the letter states. "This is a weaponization of the language of diversity."

"By appointing James to the ATEAC, Google elevates and endorses her views, implying that hers is a valid perspective worthy of inclusion in its decision making," they wrote. "This is unacceptable." 

Google did not immediately respond to The Hill's request for comment. 

The Hill has also reached out to the Heritage Foundation president for comment. 

Updated at 5:20 p.m.