Jack Poulson is the former Google Research Scientist who quit the company's machine learning division over Project Dragonfly, the company's secret plan to build a censoring Chinese search engine designed to help the country's spies surveil dissident search activity.
In an editorial on The Intercept, Poulson describes the series of events that led up to his resignation: a chain of execs who, in private meetings and public statements, engaged in hypocritical deflection and spin rather than giving the straight answer about why they were going to go into China and what the result of that would be (answers: "To make money," and "complicity in human rights abuses").
Poulson is emerging as a kind of Robert Oppenheimer of AI, one of the first top machine learning scientists to stage a high-profile resignation over the humanitarian consequences of the abuse of the technology he helped build.
My final two weeks at Google were spent balancing between handing off my projects to other engineers and meeting with increasingly senior management about my letter; my penultimate evening was spent in a disappointing direct meeting with Jeff Dean, the head of artificial intelligence research and my interface to Google’s CEO. Dean argued that only a small number of queries would be censored and that China’s surveillance is analogous to the U.S.’s Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants, secret warrants purportedly issued for the purpose of rooting out foreign spies. The next day, I worked late to finish my last project handoff and anticlimactically turned in my company badge and laptop to an empty office.
Ironically, I had no intention of speaking with the press until I later read an interview Hennessy had done as part of a promotion for his recent book, “Leading Matters.” When asked about Google re-entering the Chinese market, he dismissively said, “There’s a shifting set of grounds of how you think about that problem, and how you think about the issue of censorship. The truth is, there are forms of censorship virtually everywhere around the world.”
I Quit Google Over Its Censored Chinese Search Engine. The Company Needs Clarify Its Position on Human Rights. [Jack Poulson/The Intercept]