Recently, Google asked Kay Coles James, president of the Heritage Foundation, to serve on an advisory committee on ethics and artificial intelligence.
A group of Google employees objected to her appointment and circulated an internal petition that grossly misrepresented James and her views on controversial social issues. Unfortunately, more than 2,000 employees signed on to the petition, leading Google to disband the advisory committee altogether.
As Heritage’s senior fellow for technology and science policy, I have the privilege of working for James, and I am deeply disappointed in Google’s capitulation to the mob.
The Google petitioners seem to equate conservatism with bigotry and hate. They could not be more wrong. In poll after poll, conservatives affirm the dignity of all people, regardless of policy differences. Any assertion to the contrary is simply mistaken.
Moreover, I am confident that, had the committee been allowed to move forward, James would have presented conservative viewpoints (positions shared by more than 100 million people) honestly and in a way that would have been understood and appreciated by those who don’t hold the same beliefs.
Any important conversation about artificial intelligence ethics that excludes these views is needlessly and unwisely constrained. A fair airing of diverse, responsible views can only enrich a discussion and improve the outcome.
But even though Google pulled the plug on diversity of thought, some observers may wonder exactly what it is the protesters didn’t want to hear: how conservatives view artificial intelligence. Let me try to answer that broadly here.
Fundamentally, conservatives believe artificial intelligence can and should be used to build a country where freedom, opportunity, prosperity, and civil society flourish.
First, artificial intelligence is, and will continue to be, a critical tool for advancing U.S. security and freedom. These technologies have multiple applications in defense and intelligence circles.
Conservatives respect the concerns regarding the use of artificial intelligence in military applications — particularly lethal applications. But we would disagree with characterizations made by some “googlers” that working with the Defense Department on efforts like Project Maven constitutes a violation of the company’s former unofficial motto: “Don’t be evil.”
Conservatives also would like a better understanding of why Google, given its expressed concerns about working with the U.S. government, continues to expand its artificial intelligence research and commercial offerings in China. After all, Beijing is quite aggressively using new technologies to monitor and oppress political and religious minorities. To the outside conservative observer, this conduct seems to contravene the company’s stated artificial intelligence principles.
Second, conservatives view artificial intelligence's impact on the future of work with both optimism and concern.
We agree with many of Google’s perspectives on how automation and other artificial intelligence-enabled capabilities will generate new jobs and opportunities. We would happily work with the company and other outside experts to find ways to help America to realize these promises while also mitigating the disruptions likely to arise as the result of rapid, large-scale change.
Third, conservatives believe that artificial intelligence can open new pathways to individual and national prosperity, and we want to remove any unnecessary government barriers to these advancements. Needless regulations slow down innovation. We would gladly join Google in opposing barriers to attracting global tech talent and further expanding a technology industry that is the envy of the world.
Finally, conservatives believe that artificial intelligence should be used to expand human thriving and opportunity and that its benefits should be available to all people. Neither artificial intelligence nor any of its applications should be used to degrade or illegally discriminate against anyone.
This perspective needs to be represented in discussions ranging from policing practices and criminal sentencing to illegal discrimination in the private sector. Conservatives stand ever ready to ensure that the interests and concerns of minority communities are understood and properly addressed in these and other policy debates.
Conservatives would have been happy to carry these messages into the heart of Silicon Valley. At Google, we were denied that opportunity by a group of intolerant radicals within its ranks.
That misguided rebuff will not keep conservatives from continuing to push for the principles outlined above. If Google comes calling again for our input, we will be happy to oblige.
A brighter future for all should not be impeded by pettiness any more than it should be impeded by the close-mindedness of the ill-informed.
This piece originally appeared in The Washington Examiner