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US tech industry becomes hotbed for employee activism

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – When Liz O'Sullivan was hired by Clarifai in New York's Artificial Intelligence Agency in 2017, she was fortunate enough to find work at the interface of two of her main interests: technology and ethics. Two years later, she got into a moral dilemma.

Clarifai developed aerial and object recognition tools as one of several companies working on Project Maven, a Pentagon drone surveillance program. After several conversations with friends and colleagues, O & # 39; sullivan realized that this technology could potentially be used for autonomous weapons.

In January, she wrote to Matt Zeiler, CEO of Clarifai, on behalf of a group of staff, asking for clarification as to whether the technology would be used to manufacture weapons and request him to commit to a set of ethics. Zeiler later stated at a meeting that Clarifai would probably provide technology for autonomous weapons. O'Sullivan gave up the next day.

"I was very surprised and had to follow my conscience," she said. Zeiler and Clarifai did not respond to a comment by The Associated Press. In a 201

8 blog, Zeiler defended Clarifa's involvement in Project Maven, saying it was in line with the company's mission to accelerate human progress and continuously improve AI.

O & Sullivan, 34, sees himself as part of a "growing backlash against unethical technology." "A cornerstone over the past two years when US technicians have tried to rebuild the industry from the inside out, pushing for more control over the way their work is being used, demanding better conditions, job security and Wages for Affiliated Workers.

While some comment and sign other petitions and attend rallies, workers are taking action together as never before:

– Amazon and Microsoft employees asked companies to provide services to the software company Setting up Palantir, which provides technologies to federal agencies such as immigration and customs enforcement and the US Army.

– Amazon employees have also asked the company to switch to renewable energy and confronted CEO Jeff Bezos at a shareholders' meeting.

– After the strikes on the Google's handling of sexual misconduct cases last year signed a letter against Project Dragonfly, a search engine that complies with Chinese censorship.

– Salesforce, Microsoft and Google employees protested against their companies' connections to Customs and Border Patrol, ICE and Military.

Despite six-figure salaries and uninterrupted vacation time, many technicians question the impact of their work and join precarious workers, service providers, and contract workers in their work with their peers for better working conditions and pay.

"It's unprecedented, both the scale of their power and the willingness of employees to shake off the privilege of seeing and seeing the impact of their work," said Veena Dubal, a professor at the University of California at Hastings College of the Law, which has interviewed dozens of technicians involved in the organization.

They are encouraged by national and global "existence crises" and the realization that technology companies "have more power than a multinational company" a long time, "Dubal said.

The phenomenon is particularly strong in the San Francisco Bay Area, which includes Salesforce, Google and Palantir. The bastion of activism and progressive culture was hit hard by the technology boom's real estate affordability crisis.

"There is a lot of power (the) asked to build for the shareholders of these companies and the management of these companies. Said Ian Busher, 28, a former Google contract analyst and organizer of the Bay Area chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, "If you want to make the world a better place, then you should work with the people you work with and practice democracy to develop these tools. "

Facebook and Palantir did not respond to requests for comments Amazon's spokesman declined to comment on employee activism, but noted that the Seattle-based company was one of the most popular Sustainability was committed and its wages offered good wages and benefits as well as humane conditions At the stakeholder meeting, Bezos did not address directly the needs of employees in terms of renewable energy, but referred to ongoing sustainability efforts.

Spokesman said the Seattle-based company appreciated the feedback from the staff Iter, respects different views and offers "There are many ways to hear all voices."

A Google spokesman did not comment on specific incidents, but stressed that retaliation was banned, citing CEO Sundar's earlier statements Pichai to dissent the workers.

"There are many good things It's about giving people a lot of voice," he said at a November conference, "There are decisions we disagree with."

In recent years, the industry has begun to aggressively question the industry, and the Department of Justice launched a survey on major technology companies last month, a recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that Americans are increasingly negatively impacting the technology's impact on the country. 19659002] "As a technology employee, there is currently a good deal of guilt or the question, 'What is mine? Responsibility?'" Said Kellie McElhaney, a professor at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley.

Amr Gaber, 32, a Google engineer, was at a demonstration in July in front of the Facebook office in San Francisco among several technicians to support the cafeteria n workers looking for a new contract. He said that although the employees are more privileged, they are all workers.

"Our fate is related," said Gaber. "If the (companies) can not even treat the people who work for them well, how can we expect them to have a positive impact on society?"

There is evidence that companies are listening.

Google and Facebook have pledged to better pay agency workers and provide some services. Google ended the forced arbitration for sexual misconduct after his employees left the company. After the outcry of employees, Google refused to extend the contract with the Pentagon for work on the project Maven.

When employees asked Microsoft to terminate the agreement with ICE, CEO Satya Nadella made it clear that the company did not contribute to borderline family separation, but to support e-mail, calendar, and document systems.

A Salesforce spokesperson said conversations with employees had prompted the company to set up an ethical and human technology office and "hire a chief for ethical and humane work to develop policies and assess surrounding situations ethical use and development of our technology. "

Given concerns over the technology's impact on the Bay Area real estate crisis, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff donated $ 30 million to UC San Francisco this year to investigate homelessness after spending $ 6 million Dollars to help the city last year, providing shelter for the formerly homeless. Pichai, Google's CEO, said $ 1 billion was spent on building 20,000 homes in a decade, according to McElhaney.

Such responsiveness, according to McElhaney, is good for business and for building trust with customers and employees who are more willing to voice their demands. "Those who do not respond … miss a huge ocean liner that has already left the dock," she said.

Nevertheless, some technicians claim that companies' efforts are inadequate. In some cases, employees have said they have seen or experienced retaliation after they or others have spoken out.

"We say that technicians have a lot of power, but technicians more," said O. Sullivan quit on principle and now have a job with a young technology company seeking transparency in using artificial intelligence. "The best way to bring about change is through laws and regulations."

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