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Google AI researcher withdraws after controversial rejection by colleagues



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Angela Lang / CNET

Samy Bengio, a prominent head of research in Google’s artificial intelligence division, said on Tuesday that he was resigning from the company. The move comes after several months of unrest after the high-profile postponement from two AI ethics researchers on his team.

Bengio, a 1

4-year-old veteran of the search giant, worked in the Google Brain unit, which focused on deep learning and artificial intelligence. Google confirmed Bengio’s departure, but declined to comment further. Bengio did not respond to a request for comment.

“I learned so much from all of you, in terms of machine learning research of course, but also in how difficult but important it is to organize a large team of researchers to promote long-term ambitious research, exploration, rigor, diversity and inclusion,” Bengio wrote in an email to staff, according to Bloomberg, who previously reported the news. He did not mention the other employees’ departures in his letter, the report states.

Bengio is the highest-ranked Google employee since the company’s AI ethics unit was thrown into chaos in December. Timnit Gebru, one of the few prominent black women in the field, announced on Twitter that she was fired due to a research paper that calls for the risk of skew in AI, including in systems used by Google’s search engine.

Two months later, Google fired Margaret Mitchell, who led the company’s ethical AI team with Gebru, following an investigation into her processing of business data. Mitchell had allegedly used automated software to go through his old messages to find examples of discriminatory treatment against Gebru.

In the days after Gebru’s departure, he expressed his support for the researcher in a post on Facebook. “I stand by you, Timnite,” he wrote. “I also stand by the rest of my team, who, like me, were stunned and trying to make sense of all this.”

The episode has shaken Google’s AI team. In February, Google said it was restructuring its teams, which focus on responsible AI development. The new team is led by Marian Croak, a vice president of engineering at the technology giant.


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