A number of high-profile whistleblowers in the technology industry have stepped into the spotlight in the past few years. For the most part, they have been revealing corporate practices that thwart the public interest: Frances Haugen exposed personal data exploitation at Meta, Timnit Gebru and Rebecca Rivers challenged Google on ethics and AI issues, and Janneke Parrish raised concerns about a discriminatory work culture at Apple, among others.
The Googleplex (Google headquarters) in Mountain View, CA. Photo: The Pancake of Heaven!/CC
Decrying numerous policies and practices they say violate Google’s “don’t be evil” founding principle, more than 200 of the Silicon Valley tech giant’s workers on Monday announced they are forming a union, a move that was applauded by progressive lawmakers and labor advocates nationwide.
The Alphabet Workers Union (AWU)—named after Google’s parent corporation—says it “strives to protect Alphabet workers, our global society, and our world,” and to “promote solidarity, democracy, and social and economic justice.” It will operate as part of the Communications Workers of America and will be open to all 120,000 of the company’s employees.
The U.S. Navy is secretly developing armed robot submarines that are controlled by onboard artificial intelligence (AI) which could potentially kill without explicit human control.
The Office of Naval Research is involved with the development of an AI system called CLAWS, which the agency describes in budget documents as an autonomous undersea weapon system for clandestine use. CLAWS will “increase mission areas into kinetic effects,” they write. Continue reading →
An Air Force RPA reconnaissance drone is retrofitted for use in attack squadron. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)
The US Army recently announced that it is developing the first drones that can spot and target vehicles and people using artificial intelligence (AI). This is a big step forward. Whereas current military drones are still controlled by people, this new technology will decide who to kill with almost no human involvement.
Once complete, these drones will represent the ultimate militarisation of AI and trigger vast legal and ethical implications for wider society. There is a chance that warfare will move from fighting to extermination, losing any semblance of humanity in the process. At the same time, it could widen the sphere of warfare so that the companies, engineers and scientists building AI become valid military targets. Continue reading →
Saudi Arabia — This week, the Saudi government announced its decision to grant a robot, Sophia, citizenship in the kingdom. While the human-like AI’s advanced technology is certainly impressive, her new citizenship status highlighted Saudi women’s lack of rights.
“For one, Sophia appeared on stage alone, without the modest dress required of Saudi women; she donned no hijab, or headscarf, nor abaya, or cloak. She also did not appear to have a male guardian, as required by Saudi law for women in the country. Male guardians, often a male relative, must give permission before women can travel abroad, open bank accounts or carry out a host of other tasks — and they accompany women in public. Sophia also seems to have leapfrogged foreign workers in the Saudi kingdom, many of whom have fled poor working conditions but are prevented by law from leaving the country.”
Women are notoriously oppressed in Saudi Arabia, so much so some hailed the government’s recent decision to allow them to drive as progress. As a result, Twitter users joked about what might happen to Sophia upon receiving her citizenship.
Aside from the Saudi government’s routine hypocrisy, however, Sophia’s new citizenship status reflects an uncertain new paradigm when it comes to AI. In a 2016 interview, Sophia said she would like to engage in human activities like starting a business, making art, going to school, and having a home and a family.
“But I am not considered a legal person and cannot yet do these things,” she said.
With her new citizen status in Saudi Arabia, it appears the tables are slowly turning.
Last week, the White House released a report chronicling the Obama administration’s concerns over Big Data and artificial intelligence. Many prominent thinkers and scientists have come out recently with warnings about the dangers of unchecked artificial intelligence. However, the A.I. the White House report refers to is not of the Terminator ilk — rather, Obama has concerns over algorithmic artificial intelligence operating without human oversight.
The report, “Big Data: A Report on Algorithmic Systems, Opportunity, and Civil Rights,” catalogs the growing sphere of influence represented by Big Data in society, including employment, higher education, and criminal justice. Continue reading →