In short: Dr. Jack Poulson, former Google Senior Research Scientist who left the company this month, wrote a letter to lawmakers sitting at the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation earlier this week, claiming he was ousted from the tech giant "in the wake of a pattern of unethical and unaccountable decision making from company leadership" in reference to the controversial Project Dragonfly. The industry veteran testified the initiative aimed at (re)launching a censored version of Google Search in China has been well underway this June when Google published its AI principles, adding that the initiative directly contradicts the thereof. The machine learning scientist also accused Google of stifling internal discussions about the morality of the program, asking the committee to grill Google Chief Privacy Officer Keith Enright. and force the Internet juggernaut to be more transparent.
Background: Dr. Poulson already harshly criticized Google over Project Dragonfly following his departure from the company earlier this summer, asserting Alphabet's subsidiary plans to "capitulate" to China. The company's AI principles outlined nearly four months ago contain several provisions that appear to be at odds with its Chinese ambitions: "avoid creating or reinforcing unfair bias," "uphold high standards of scientific excellence," and a vow to never create "technologies whose purpose contravenes widely accepted principles of international law and human rights." Launching a revamped version of Search that conforms to Beijing's known censorship efforts would compromise or outright violate those promises, casting doubt over the legitimacy of the principle list as a whole. The initiative is still understood to be in the early stages of development and its existence was only known to several hundred out of 80,000 Google employees before public reporting revealed it in August.
Impact: Dr. Poulson's letter already failed to accomplish its primary goal – getting some answers out of Mr. Enright. The CPO dodged the China question during today's Senate committee hearing on user privacy on several occasions, having only reiterated the talking points of Google CEO Sundar Pichai who previously told employees the firm is not close to launching a censored version of Search for China, albeit without denying its intentions to do so in the future. Still, the mounting public pressure may eventually see the company drop the project, especially in the context of its timing, i.e. the fact that Google just recently refused to renew its Project Maven contract that saw it collaborate with Pentagon on AI weaponization.