(Reuters) – Google’s head of research Samy Bengio said on Tuesday that he withdrew, according to an internal email seen by Reuters, in a battle against the Alphabet Inc unit after the dismissals of colleagues who asked about paper review and diversity practices.
Although at least two Google engineers had previously resigned to protest the dismissal of artificial intelligence (AI) researcher Timnit Gebru, Bengio is still the highest-profile employee.
Google confirmed Bengio’s departure and his email. Bengio did not respond to requests for comment. Bloomberg previously reported on the news.
A renowned researcher at Google, Bengio spent about 14 years in the company and was among the first employees involved in a decade-old project known as Google Brain, which advanced algorithms that were crucial to the functioning of various modern AI systems.
Andrew Ng, an early brain member who now runs software startup Landing AI, said Bengio “has been instrumental in further developing AI technology and ethics.” Another founder, Jeff Dean, now oversees Google’s thousands of researchers.
Google brain researcher Sara Hooker in a tweet described Bengio’s departure as “a huge loss for Google.”
In the internal email Bengio had sent, he said that he decided to leave Google to pursue “other exciting opportunities”, and that his last day would be April 28.
Google fired human resources researcher Margaret Mitchell in February after claiming she transferred electronic files out of the company. Co-researcher Gebru fired in December after she threatened to quit instead of withdrawing a paper.
Mitchell has said she tried to “worry about race and gender inequality, and report on Google’s problematic termination of Dr. Gebru.” Gebru has said that the company wanted to suppress the criticism of the products and the work to increase the diversity of the workforce. Google has said it accepted the offer to withdraw.
Bengio had defended the couple, who led a team of about a dozen people who investigated ethical issues related to AI software. In December, Bengio wrote on Facebook that he was amazed that Gebru, which he led, was removed from the company without consulting him.
Although he did not mention the dismissals in the resignation note, they influenced his decision to resign, said people familiar with the matter, and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Bengio wrote in the email, “I learned so much with all of you, when it comes to machine learning research, of course, but also about how difficult, yet important, it is to organize a large team of researchers to promote long-term ambitious research, exploration, rigor, diversity and inclusion. ”
Nicolas Le Roux, a Google brain researcher, told Reuters that Bengio had devoted itself to making the research organization more inclusive and “created a space where everyone felt welcome.”
Google recently moved oversight of the AI ethics team from Bengio to Vice President Marian Croak. In February, Croak told City Hall staff that Google wanted management that could focus fully on this area, saying it had just been a small part of what Bengio supported.
Google also promised several changes at City Hall with the aim of regaining the researchers’ trust, Reuters reported earlier.
Reporting by Paresh Dave and Jeffrey Dastin, Additional Reporting by Munsif Vengattil; Clips by Lisa Shumaker, Anil D’Silva, Karishma Singh and Michael Perry