The Chinese government is known for establishing a very high-tech surveillance and censorship system for their citizens. However, they can’t do it without some help. Enter Google. A secret project called “Dragonfly” has been reportedly working on providing the Chinese government with a highly censored search engine with surveillance and AI capabilities. Also, the project would provide “personalized mobile news.” As news of this leaked to Google’s own employees, many became outraged, citing ethical and moral concerns, reported Gizmodo.
The open letter pointed out the hypocrisy of the act, citing Google’s decision to remove censored web search from China eight years ago. Then, Sergey Brin said that “In some aspects of [government] policy, particularly with respect to censorship, with respect to surveillance of dissidents, I see some earmarks of totalitarianism.”
Not only that, the letter makes an interesting demand, saying that “We urgently need more transparency, a seat at the table, and a commitment to clear and open processes: Google employees need to know what we’re building.” So it appears that some employees could be working on Project Dragonfly without actually knowing that they’re contributing to it.
Employees are demanding more transparency, an ethics review, ombudspeople, and “ethical test cases” to be published. They want Dragonfly to be ethically assessed, along with other controversial projects like Maven and Airgap GCP.
Some questions still remain about Dragonfly. For one, some wonder if the project is even real, since it’s so secretive, according to CNET.
In the past, Google employees similarly protested Project Maven. At the time, some employees even quit in protest, citing that they could no longer stay at the company in good faith. Notably, the Maven protest was backed by over 90 academics that urged Google to cut ties with the military, as described by the Inquisitr. The protest prompted CEO Sundar Pichai to publish an AI Principles memo, as the company vowed to not use their AI to develop weapons. Even so, the rest of the project was carried out, supposedly to completion.
The open letter also puts the AI Principles on blast. It points out that since Project Dragonfly was hatched and being developed in secret, that the AI Principles aren’t providing enough oversight.
The controversy surrounding AI technology is numerous, including ethical and moral concerns as well as questions about how trustworthy it really is. While the protest against Project Maven focused on the question of whether Google should be working with the military, the Project Dragonfly protest seems to focus on the lack of oversight within Google.