Google is accused of firing prominent AI ethics researcher

In this Sept. 24, 2019, file photo, a sign is shown on a Google building at their campus in Mountain View, Calif.

Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

Google’s old “don’t be evil” slogan has been under fire for years, and it appears that the tech titan is once again facing accusations of questionable behavior.

The New York Times reports that Timnit Gebru, a Black woman who is a co-leader of Google’s ethical A.I. team, has left the company under troubling circumstances. Gebru asserted in a Wednesday night tweet that she was fired because of an email regarding hiring practices and bias in Google’s artificial intelligence technology. Platformer has published the email here.

I was fired by @JeffDean for my email to Brain women and Allies. My corp account has been cutoff. So I’ve been immediately fired 🙂

— Timnit Gebru (@timnitGebru) December 3, 2020

A Google spokesman told Wired that Gebru had not been fired, but rather resigned.

In the lead-up to the email in question, there was an ongoing conflict at Google about a draft report that touched on potentially biased language regarding gender and race in the company’s machine learning models. Gebru told WIRED that she was asked to either remove her name from the report or retract the report entirely, and that her manager did not offer details of the review process.

After sending the aforementioned email to a larger group of her colleagues, she reportedly received a response alerting her to her immediate “resignation,” and she was also locked out of her company email. Google research head Jeff Dean later claimed in an email that the paper did not meet the bar for publication, was overly negative of management and did not offer constructive solutions.

Gebru believes her dismissal had to do with how outspoken she was on diversity issues. The BBC reports that an open letter of support has garnered 2,000 signatures from her co-workers and peers within the industry.

“We have been pleading for representation, but there are barely any Black people in Google Research, and, from what I see, none in leadership whatsoever,” she told WIRED.

Read more regarding Gebru’s history and Google’s response here.

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Dan Gentile