Ron Miller: Why a Google Ethics Commission is like jumbo shrimp
Google hasn't been anyone's idea of an ethical beacon in recent years
Computerworld - You might have heard that in response to concerns about its purchase of artificial intelligence vendor Deep Mind, Google has promised to form an artificial intelligence ethics board. That's rich.
When I first heard "Google" and "ethics" in the same sentence, my thoughts turned to other oxymorons like "jumbo shrimp" and "House Intelligence Committee." If you only know a little bit about the company's behavior over the years, you have to see the phrase "Google ethics" as a contradiction in terms.
The idea behind the board is reportedly to ensure that AI is developed safely at Google, however Google defines that (and nobody knows). Let's be real, though: Putting Google in charge of the ethics of anything is a stretch. This is the company that once promised to do no evil -- and has been trying to live that promise down ever since.
Maybe when they started, when they were two happy-go-lucky Stanford students, Google's founders really believed their company would be different. But their little startup grew into a behemoth and eventually went public, and just like Microsoft, the technology powerhouse that dominated the scene in Google's early days, Google has done whatever was necessary to maintain its market dominance.
Google is constantly raising ethical concerns, whether by giving precedence to its own content over others in Google Search, changing its algorithms without providing the least bit of transparency, closing down beloved services like Google Reader, snooping on everyone's Wi-Fi connections or secretly tracking iPhone users.
In fact, Google is in the midst of a lawsuit in the U.K. over the iPhone tracking issue, and The Guardian reports that the company isn't exactly making friends and influencing people with its attempt to have the lawsuit moved to California. Plaintiffs called Google "arrogant and immoral" for arguing that the lawsuit needs to be moved to its home turf, according to the British newspaper.
And this is the company that wants to be the self-policing ethical reviewer of artificial intelligence? With its track record, how can anyone seriously think that it would let some pesky ethical issues get in the way if the DeepMind technology could provide Google with a competitive advantage?
Publicly traded companies have a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders to maximize value. Google is certainly not alone among publicly traded companies in putting that imperative above all others. But it has shown itself in recent years to be especially aggressive in attending to the bottom line and willing to piss off users, competitors, governments and anyone else to do it.
In the end, of course, this DeepMind buy might not do for Google everything that it's now hoping for. Not everything that Google touches turns to gold; just look at Motorola Mobility, which Google bought for $12.5 billion in 2012 and is now selling for just $2.9 billion. But I do know this: If the DeepMind deal doesn't pan out, it won't be because an ethics board was able to put any brakes on Google's ambitions.
Ron Miller is a freelance technology journalist and blogger. He is an editor at FierceContentManagement and a contributing editor at EContent Magazine.
Other columns by Ron Miller
- Ron Miller: Spain's link tax taxes my patience
- Ron Miller: A curmudgeonly view of Yo
- Ron Miller: Will the FCC stick us in the slow lane?
- Ron Miller: When will we start taking security seriously?
- Ron Miller: NSA can track every email, but it can't find a plane
- Comcast can't fight disruption by growing bigger
- Ron Miller: Restricting the Internet is a business killer
- Ron Miller: Why a Google Ethics Commission is like jumbo shrimp
- Ron Miller: After Snowden, what kind of country does America want to be?
- Ron Miller: DRM has always been a horrible idea
Read more about Management in Computerworld's Management Topic Center.
- Global Growing Pains: Tapping into B2B Integration Services to Overcome Global Expansion Challenges A recent survey by IDG Research explored both the challenges and pain points companies face when growing globally, as well as the capabilities...
- PCI 3.0 Compliance In this white paper, learn how PCI-DSS 3.0 effects how you deploy and maintain PCI compliant networks using CradlePoint devices.
- Defense throughout the Vulnerability Life Cycle with Alert Logic Threat and Log Manager New security threats are emerging all the time, from new forms of malware and web application exploits that target code vulnerabilities to attacks...
- QA Automation: Reducing Test Execution While Improving Coverage A leading capital investment firm in the US was in need of a comprehensive, cost effective and flexible solution to reduce their existing...
- E-Signature RFP Checklist Webcast If your organization is looking to adopt e-signatures, you may be overwhelmed by the number of providers that offer seemingly similar solutions. How...
- Expert Panel: Enterprise Mobility and Data Loss Prevention When it comes to enterprise mobility, it's not just about devices, it's about the way people work. Hear this expert panel discuss the... All Management White Papers | Webcasts