U.K. Tech Staff Quit Over Work On “Harmful” AI Projects


An alarming number of technology workers operating in the rapidly advancing field of artificial intelligence say they are concerned about the products they’re building.

Some 59% of U.K. tech workers focusing on AI have experience of working on products that they felt might be harmful for society, according to a report published on Monday by Doteveryone, the think tank set up by lastminute.com cofounder and Twitter board member Martha Lane Fox.

The report — titled “People, Power and Technology: The Tech Workers View” [PDF here] — shows that people in AI are considerably more concerned about their work than U.K. tech workers in general, as 28% of tech workers said they had experience of working on products they felt might be harmful for society.

Over a quarter of those in AI that said they’d had concerns about their work decided to quit their jobs, according to the report, which surveyed more than 1,000 U.K. tech workers. Of those, 192 said they worked in AI. Doteveryone was unable to disclose information on who responded as the survey was anonymous.

“In artificial intelligence, particularly, alarming numbers of talented people are stepping away from jobs they fear have negative social consequences,” said Lane-Fox.

AI is a powerful technology that has the potential to do good and evil, depending on how and where it is applied. It could be used to power autonomous weapons, for example, or it could be used to discover new drugs that save people’s lives. While there have not been any major protests in the U.K., in Silicon Valley, Google staff successfully campaigned for the company to drop Project Maven, a contract with the U.S. Department of Defense.

Google staff feared that the computer vision project would aid drone strikes on the battlefield. Domestically, AI projects have also proved controversially with critics warning that skewed data and algorithms could lead to discrimination and bias based on people’s gender, race, or political beliefs.

The U.K is a champion for the AI sector in Europe and companies like Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook employ large teams of AI researchers in cities like London and Cambridge.

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