News  |    |  June 6, 2019

How Big Tech funds the debate on AI ethics

News article by Oscar Williams.
Published by New Statesman America.


The Silicon Valley giants are spending billions developing AI, but they are also funding the people setting the technology’s most fundamental principles.

Most people are unaware of the extent to which algorithms already make life-changing decisions on their behalf. Software can diagnose illnesses, shortlist you for a job interview or assess whether you should be granted parole. As machine learning and artificial intelligence become more sophisticated, automated decision-making will become ever more influential, and the rules that underpin these decisions may one day have as much effect on daily life as the laws of nation states. But while elected governments draw up legislation in public, the technology industry is spending millions of pounds quietly attempting to shape the ethical debate about the decisions machines make.

Spotlight and NS Tech have spent the past two months investigating the role that the industry plays in supporting British research into AI ethics. Data obtained under freedom of information laws reveals that Google has spent millions of pounds funding research at British universities over the last five years. Oxford University alone has received at least £17m from Google.

The search giant, whose parent company was worth more than $750bn at the time of going to print, has been fined €8.24bn over the last two years by the European Commission for its business practices. The French data protection authority fined the company a further €50m in January, and in the UK the Information Commissioner’s Office is currently investigating claims that the company has breached EU data laws. [ . . . ]