Google’s newest artificial intelligence (AI) ethicist sees the controversial technology as a tool for hope.
- Alphabet recently hired James Manyika, a Zimbabwean computer scientist with experience in Silicon Valley and serving on President Barack Obama’s Global Development Council, in January as an executive.
- He is helping oversee ethical issues in regard to AI models.
- The company announced yesterday it would commit $25 million toward the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and making AI more available and opening a website that allows for applications for research grants and funding.
- “The Google SVP unveiled a new project Thursday to bring artificial intelligence to sustainable development efforts, as Google pushes forward with ambitious AI plans and tries to move past previous controversies,” says Fortune.
- Google is reportedly seeking to repair its image following a backlash against firing computer scientist Timnit Gebru in 2020.
- Gebru was fired for submitting a research paper that suggested the dangers of large language models, that they might be biased towards marginalized groups.
Why it’s important
Google parent Alphabet strives for diversity and equity but it faces numerous accusations within and without claiming that it does not provide adequate assistance to “marginalized voices.”
“[Gebru] accused the company of ‘silencing marginalized voices’ and dismissed Google’s internal diversity programs as a waste of time,” says Wired.
“Thousands of Google employees signed an open letter protesting Gebru’s firing, and [Alphabet’s CEO] apologized, saying that the way the company had handled the matter led some in our community to question their place at Google,” says Fortune.
Manyika says that he is happy with the serious approach the company has internally taken to reassert its commitments and use AI responsibly and ethically, Fortune reports.
He describes himself as a “techno-optimist” and believes that the same language models that Gebru accused of bias can be applied in ways to help create warning systems for floods or pests in countries like Ghana, Bangladesh, and India.
“Eschewing work on the models altogether would mean depriving people, including those most in need, of vital benefits. For instance, he said such models had enabled automatic translation of ‘low-resource’ languages—those for which relatively little written material exists in digital form—for the first time… These include languages such as Luganda, spoken in East Africa, and Quechua, spoken in South America… Translation allows native speakers to connect with the rest of the world via the internet and communicate globally in ways they never could before,” says Fortune.