In short: Machine learning scientist Jack Poulson quit his senior researcher position at Google over the company’s plans to “capitulate” to China, i.e. the Far Eastern country’s censorship and surveillance practices, the industry veteran told The Intercept. The Ph.D. holder resigned due to the existence of Project Dragonfly, a widely reported initiative seeking to return Google Search to China nearly a decade after the firm discontinued the Chinese version of its engine in order to protest Beijing’s censorship.
Background: Google Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai recently told employees the company has no immediate plans to relaunch its flagship service in China but didn’t rule out the possibility of doing so in its entirety. Mr. Poulson’s departure was reported only shortly after a bipartisan group of lawmakers demanded straight answers from Google regarding its plans for China, having outlined their concerns about Project Dragonfly in a letter addressed to Alphabet’s subsidiary. The 32-year-old AI expert who officially left the company on August 31 expressed ethical concerns about Google’s renewed willingness to cooperate with the Communist regime in exchange for market access and wasn’t the first to do so as the firm reportedly already lost a number of employees due to the same issue.
Impact: A mass exodus from Google still appears unlikely but with Project Dragonfly being the second secretive initiative with questionable moral reasoning that was uncovered over the course of the last twelve months, more employee activism at the tech giant is to be expected. None of that will likely sit well with Washington, especially in the context of Project Maven — the other secretive initiative in question meant to weaponize AI in cooperation with Pentagon — being canceled due to internal pressure. Google may be grilled over the matter two weeks from now when the firm’s officials are scheduled to appear in front of a Senate committee as part of a hearing on digital privacy.