More than thirty scientists have sent an open letter to the Amsterdam universities UvA and VU. They have serious objections to the collaboration with the Chinese tech giant Huawei.
In August it was announced that the two universities are going to set up the lab ‘Dreamslab’, which will be funded by Huawei. The aim is to research how artificial intelligence can improve search engine functions in different languages.
But the thirty scientists from universities in Groningen, Tilburg, Nijmegen and Delft, among others, have serious ethical objections. A number of UvA professors have also signed the letter from the Funding Matters collective.
“This partnership is deeply disturbing. Huawei is actively involved in the human rights violations of Uyghurs in China.” For example, there would be evidence that the company plays a major role in setting up the surveillance infrastructure in the regions where many Uighurs live.
Employees and the UvA Central Works Council have also expressed objections. The works council believes that the collaboration should have been ethically tested. “A lot of research into artificial intelligence can be used for positive, but also for objectionable activities, including Dreamslab’s research.”
Scientists also believe that universities should take a close look at any ethical objections in this type of partnership, and they believe that this has not happened in this case. “None of the universities seems to have given much thought to the ethical and political implications of this deal.”
The collective emphasizes that it is not about Chinese companies in general, but about making the right decisions in such collaborations. “These kinds of decisions must also be about the consequences for human lives.”
The VU and UvA
The universities say they have read the letter with interest. Together with other universities, they hope to come up with guidelines for collaborations with companies from ‘non-free countries’ in the future.
Nevertheless, the VU and UvA still fully support the collaboration with Huawei. “Given the careful preliminary stage that our universities have followed in the collaboration with Huawei Finland, the content of the research and the agreements made (such as the free publication of research results), we believe this collaboration, in this field, is justified under these circumstances.”