Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis
Photo by Nonsap Visuals on Unsplash

Senior Google scientist quits over Google’s censorship in China

He believes it “contravenes widely accepted principles of international law and human rights”

Jack Poulson felt it was “it was his “ethical responsibility to resign in protest of the forfeiture of our public human rights commitments”:

In early August, Poulson raised concerns with his managers at Google after The Intercept revealed that the internet giant was secretly developing a Chinese search app for Android devices. The search system, code-named Dragonfly, was designed to remove content that China’s authoritarian government views as sensitive, such as information about political dissidents, free speech, democracy, human rights, and peaceful protest…

Poulson, who was previously an assistant professor at Stanford University’s department of mathematics, said he believed that the China plan had violated Google’s artificial intelligence principles, which state that the company will not design or deploy technologies “whose purpose contravenes widely accepted principles of international law and human rights.” Ryan Gallagher, “Senior Google Scientist Resigns over “Forfeiture of Our Values” in China” at Intercept

One thing that troubled Poulson was the practice of hosting of data on the mainland, where the government can use it to target activists and journalists. AI is warmly embraced by the Chinese government but in large part for the purpose of mass (and massive) surveillance.

Google refused to testify at a recent U. S. Senate hearing and a variety of reasons were offered, from discomfort with discussing the firm’s co-operation with the Chinese government right down to “Google CEO’s Sundar Pichai’s name ‘looks foreign’ to conservative lawmakers and is hard to pronounce.”

Chances are, the lawmakers will remember it now.

Google wasn’t always cozy with censorship, Poulson, 32, told The Intercept that he had joined the company at a time when its search engine was pulled from China due to censorship issues. Today, Google has responded to employee complaints about Dragonfly by limiting access to information about it.

What about the company’s once-proud motto, Don’t be evil (a jab, they say, at Microsoft)?

Bye-bye, “Don’t be evil.” Actually the company’s controversial watchword (now Alphabet’s) had already been expunged from its corporate code of conduct last May to be replaced by the more ambiguous “Do the right thing.” Doing the right thing seems now to encompass playing ball with Chairman Xi – China’s “paramount leader” for life – who recently has been following in Mao’s footsteps by publishing his own version of the “Little Red Book.” …

Google in its close relationship with China is becoming China, if it’s not already there.” Roger L. Simon Google and China—Made for Each Other” at PJ Media

Censorship is especially severe in China because decades of authoritarianism confront a modern population well aware of the power of the internet:

The challenge for China’s leadership is to maintain what it perceives as the benefits of the internet – advancing commerce and innovation – without letting technology accelerate political change. To maintain his “Chinanet”, Xi seems willing to accept the costs in terms of economic development, creative expression, government credibility, and the development of civil society. But the internet continues to serve as a powerful tool for citizens seeking to advance social change and human rights. The game of cat-and-mouse continues, and there are many more mice than cats.

But these cats have many sets of claws:

The total number of people employed to monitor opinion and censor content on the internet – a role euphemistically known as “internet public opinion analyst” – was estimated at 2 million in 2013. They are employed across government propaganda departments, private corporations and news outlets. One 2016 Harvard study estimated that the Chinese government fabricates and posts approximately 448m comments on social media annually. A considerable amount of censorship is conducted through the manual deletion of posts, and an estimated 100,000 people are employed by both the government and private companies to do just this. Elizabeth C. Economy, “The great firewall of China: Xi Jinping’s internet shutdown” at The Guardian

Some believe that any censorship system that a human being can develop can somehow be got around by another human being. China may provide a way of testing that.*

See also: Are social media companies violating anti-trust laws? DOJ to investigate The efforts of social media companies to meddle in politics may now be getting pushback from politicians


Google branches out into politics Unfortunately the only political model it would likely know is: One-party state

*Meanwhile, yes, it is this crazy:

Senior Google scientist quits over Google’s censorship in China