Google has opposed a shareholder's call for more transparency around its algorithms.
The proposal was set forth during parent company Alphabet's 2023 stockholder meeting.
CEO Sundar Pichai emphasized the potential of new generative AI and added safety is essential.
Google's parent company Alphabet opposed a shareholder proposal that sought increased transparency surrounding its algorithms.
Trillium Asset Management set forth this proposal during Alphabet's 2023 annual stockholder meeting. Trillium made a similar request last year, before the ChatGPT craze swept over the technology industry.
In its proposal, the investor raised concerns around how algorithmic systems can lead to harmful outcomes in areas like criminal justice and medicine. Trillium also cited a report by the New Zealand Royal Commission which found that YouTube content helped radicalize the man behind the 2019 Christchurch shooting. It argued that accountability and transparency in artificial intelligence are needed if the technology is to remain safe to society.
Google in its opposition to the proposal said that it already provides meaningful disclosures surrounding its algorithms, including through websites that provide overviews of how YouTube's algorithms sort content, for instance. It added that its proprietary algorithms are foundational to its business, and "could be misused in the wrong hands."
"Any consideration of rules around algorithmic transparency must consider the serious risk that information could be exploited by bad actors, user privacy could be impacted, and commercially sensitive information could be exposed," Google said in its opposing statement.
Trillium sought more information about "how Alphabet uses algorithmic systems to target and deliver ads, error rates, and the impact these systems had on user speech and experiences." It also suggested that the company consider recommendations from the Mozilla Foundation and researchers from New York University on standards around algorithm and ad transparency.
During a Q&A session towards the end of the stockholder meeting, Google CEO Sundar Pichai was asked how the company intends to maximize the potential of AI while mitigating the risks.
"We are seven years into our journey as an AI-first company," Pichai said at the meeting. "We've been working for a long time incorporating AI into our products to make them more helpful. I think AI has the potential to impact nearly every sector, helping radiologists assess medical images. We're approaching it boldly, and we're doing it responsibly."
Google recommended that shareholders oppose all 11 proposals set forth by stockholders. Other proposals included one that requested Google reconsider its plans to build a data center in Saudi Arabia over privacy and human rights concerns. Another suggested that Google do more to prevent users' information from being shared with law enforcement when searching for abortion-related services in states where access has been curtailed.
Trillium has been a vocal shareholder in Google over the years, and owns approximately $135 million worth of the company's stock according to recent SEC filings. Trillium did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The call for more transparency comes shortly after Google vice president Geoffrey Hinton left the company and made public warnings about the dangers of new AI-based chatbots, saying the potential is "quite scary." And previously, Timnit Gebru, who led Google's AI team in 2020 and conducted research finding that the company's algorithms could perpetuate sexism and racism, said she was fired after she clashed with the company over a paper she co-authored.
Algorithmic bias isn't a new concern — a 2016 report from ProPublica found that algorithmic software used by US judges was unfairly weighted against people of color and perpetuated racial inequities. Still, the generative AI boom has improved AI's capability to write sentences and even code at an ability almost comparable to humans.
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