My Year as a Tech Whistleblower

I hardly recognize the person I was a year ago. Around this time in 2018, I was working for a little computer vision company that had really big problems. There was a lot of quiet dissent and discontent, hardly any executive transparency, and a whole lot of sudden, unexpected change. I had just been promoted in October — shedding all of the customer-facing responsibilities I had amassed in exchange for managing the company’s data needs.

Things had been changing for a while, but we were frogs slowly boiled. It was hard for me to notice the trend at the time, but looking back it’s harder to see why I stayed as long as I did. A combination of ambition and denial, if I’m honest.

Some personnel changes resulted in new power structures at the company. New sales inquiries from authoritarian regimes were popping into the pipeline, where previously they would have been summarily ignored. It wasn’t long into my promotion before there were proposed tasks asking my team to do things that made us uncomfortable. Things we thought might be illegal, and if they weren’t illegal, then they were things that we thought should be outlawed asap.

I had just been nominated for a chance to work as an ethics officer.

I still believed internal ethics officers could work.

That all went down in JANUARY.

It’s crazy to think it’s already been a whole year.

A year ago, I wasn’t sure if AI regulation was a good idea.

Now I know that it’s our only hope.

But what I’m most grateful for over the last year are the incredible friends I’ve made along the way. I couldn’t possibly name all of them, but I’m so lucky to now be surrounded by some of the kindest, most impactful activists and human rights advocates on the planet. The work of activists like Albert at S.T.O.P, Jack at Tech Inquiry, Peter at ICRAC, and Meredith at AI Now inspired me (before I’d met any of them) to reach out to the ACLU and start this work. To tell the public why AI shouldn’t ever be allowed to take a human life. And now, even in the darkest moments of despair, when I feel like the battle for ethical, well-regulated AI might be extremely uphill, I’m encouraged thinking of how their work has impacted me, and how far I’ve come as a result. Through all of this I have to remember, and to remind others of this important fact… that even though it sometimes seems impossible, and always is difficult working to change hearts and minds, it remains true that…

People CAN change. I know I did.

AI Activist, Pragmatic Pacifist, & Lover of Tinfoil Hats. VP Arthur AI (arthur.ai); Technology Director STOP (stopspying.org); Member ICRAC (.net). Views mine.

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