Amazon, AI, and the ACLU

Next, we head to Silicon Valley, where US tech giants face a growing backlash over their collaboration with governments on artificial intelligence. Consider the following:


  • Last week, a coalition of activists led by the American Civil Liberties Union wrote to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos demanding that the company stop selling its advanced image recognition software to law enforcement agencies. They argued that it handed “dangerous surveillance powers directly to the government,” and that the technology would inevitably be abused.
  • Last month, the New York Times reported that a few thousand Google employees had signed a petition demanding that the company stop participating in a Pentagon project to develop advanced image recognition, arguing that it could end up being used in drone strikes. A few dozen staffers have reportedly resigned over the issue.

There are three groups that can apply serious political pressure to tech companies: governments, through regulation; the public (subscribers and shareholders), by withholding their business; and employees, by withholding their labor. Grassroots activism around AI has the potential to energize all three constituencies.

But will it be enough to make a difference? One view holds that, unlike most companies that sell to governments, Amazon, Google and other Silicon Valley giants have consumer-facing businesses vulnerable to public pressure. The other is skeptical that many of us will stop Googling or Amazoning over this, or that large numbers of their employees will walk away from the sizeable salaries, benefits, and stock options they offer. It’ll take regulation to stop tech companies from selling AI to governments, and that’s not something any Congress worried about appearing soft on crime or terrorism is likely to embrace.

We’re curious to know what Signal readers think: Can grassroots pressure act as an effective brake on controversial uses of AI? Send us your thoughts.

The Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace launched in 2018 with the commitment of signatories to stand up to cyber threats like election interference, attacks on critical infrastructure, and supply chain vulnerabilities. Last week, on the first anniversary of the call, the number of signatories has nearly tripled to more than 1,000 and now includes 74 nations; more than 350 international, civil society and public sector organizations; and more than 600 private sector entities. These commitments to the Paris Call from around the world demonstrate a widespread, global, multi-stakeholder consensus about acceptable behavior in cyberspace.

Read More at Microsoft On The Issues.

In recent years, Republicans have come to dominate most of the state legislatures in the US. Ironically, it was during the Obama-era that the GOP made major headway in states that had long been considered safely blue. State legislatures are now redder than they've been in nearly a century, and in most parts of the country, one party holds all the levers of power. For the first time since 1914, there's only one split legislature in the entire country: Minnesota. To be sure, some state races are bucking the trend: Kentucky and Louisiana, both deep-red states, recently elected Democratic governors. Here's a look at how Democratic and Republican control of state legislatures has evolved over the past four decades.

Forty years ago, Islamic extremists angry at the Saudi government's experiments with social liberalization laid siege to the Grand Mosque of Mecca, the holiest site in Islam.

The attack came on the heels of the Iranian revolution across the Gulf, putting the House of Saud and its American backers in a precarious spot. Tehran had challenged Saudi Arabia's Islamic legitimacy from without, while jihadists were now doing the same from within. For a few days it seemed as though the world's most important oil producer – and the custodian of Islam's holiest places – might be in danger of collapse.

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What changes now that the U.S. softened its position on Israeli settlements?

Well, I mean, not a lot. I mean, keep in mind that this is also the administration that moved the embassy to Jerusalem, from Tel Aviv. Everyone said that was going to be a massive problem. Ultimately, not many people cared. Same thing with recognition of Golan Heights for Israel. This is just one more give from the Americans to the Israelis in the context of a region that doesn't care as much as they used to about Israel - Palestine.

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