Three years ago, artificial intelligence research firm DeepMind was acquired by Google for a reported £400m. As part of the acquisition, Google agreed to set up an ethics and safety board to ensure that its AI technology is not abused.
The existence of the ethics board wasn’t confirmed at the time of the acquisition announcement, and the public only became aware of it through a leak to industry news site The Information. But in the years since, senior members of DeepMind have publicly confirmed the board’s existence, arguing that it is one of the ways that the company is trying to “lead the way” on ethical issues in AI.
But in all that time DeepMind has consistently refused to say who is on the board, what it discusses, or publicly confirm whether or not it has even officially met. The Guardian has asked DeepMind and Google multiple times since the acquisition on 26 January 2014 for transparency around the board, and received just one answer on the record.
In January 2016, during a press conference in which DeepMind announced that its AlphaGo system had successfully defeated a high-level human player at the ancient board game Go, the Guardian asked DeepMind co-founder and chief executive Demis Hassabis whether it would make any information about the ethics board public.
“We have convened our ethics board, that’s progressing very well,” Hassabis replied. “It’s an internal board, so confidential matters are discussed on that. And so far, we feel that a lot of it, the purpose of the board currently is to educate the people on that board as to the issues and bring everyone up to speed.
“So there hasn’t really been anything major yet that would warrant announcing in any way. But in the future we may well talk about those things more publicly,” he added.