Google’s establishment of an advisory council comes across as little more than window-dressing
You may not have noticed it, but there’s a feeding frenzy under way in the tech world. Traditionally, such frenzies are driven by greed. This one, interestingly, is driven by fear, though you’d never guess that from its cover story, which is that it’s all about “ethics”, specifically the ethics of using (and, more commonly, abusing) personal data. Suddenly, wherever you look, data ethics has become the obsession du jour of governments, tech companies and regulators. Everyone and his dog is now publishing data-ethics guides, codes and pious exhortations. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, for example, is setting up a Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation. Consortiums of tech companies have set up initiatives such as the Partnership on AI (motto: “The best way to ensure a good future for AI is to invent it together”). Google has published a set of “AI principles” and the other day followed up with an external advisory council “to help advance the responsible development of AI”. And so on.
I’ve been tracking this obsession for a while, tagging every instance of it that I found on the web with the software I use for keeping track of memes. At first, I thought that the accumulating stack of references was just a reflection of journalistic scepticism and my suspicious temperament. But it turns out that I was not alone in noticing this trend. No less a source than Gartner, the technology analysis company, for example, has also sussed it and indeed has logged “data ethics” as one of its top 10 strategic trends for 2019.