Timnit Gebru, one of Google’s best researchers on artificial intelligence, says that the company abruptly fired her yesterday. The technical co-lead of Google’s Ethical Artificial Intelligence Team claims executives were outraged by an email she had sent to colleagues.
The email, which was sent to the list server Brain Women and Allies, expressed frustration that managers were trying to get Gebru to withdraw a research article. The full text was first published in Platform games. “A week before you go on vacation, you see a meeting show up at 4:30 PM PST in your calendar,”
After the email went out, Gebru told managers that certain conditions had to be met in order for her to stay with the company. Otherwise, she had to work on a transition plan.
Megan Kacholia, vice president of engineering at Google Research, said she could not meet the conditions and accepted Gebru’s resignation as a result, according to OneZero. Kacholia added: “However, we believe that the end of your employment should be faster than your email reflects, because certain aspects of the email you sent last night to employees outside the management of the brain group reflect behavior that is not in line with expectations of a Google manager, “according to Gebru. On Twitter, she claimed that the decision to say her ultimately came from Google’s head of AI, Jeff Dean.
Apparently my manager sent my manager an email with my direct reports that she accepted my resignation. I had not resigned – I had first asked for simple conditions and said that I would answer when I return from vacation. But I guess she decided for me 🙂 it’s the lawyer who’s talking.
– Timnit Gebru (@timnitGebru) December 3, 2020
Gebru is known for its work with algorithmic bias, especially in face recognition technology. In 2018, she co-authored an article with Joy Buolamwini that showed error rates for identifying dark-skinned people were far higher than the error rate for identifying white skins, in part because the datasets used to train algorithms were overwhelmingly white.
News of Gebru’s alleged shooting swept through Twitter yesterday, which led to an outpouring of support from colleagues and partners. “I have your back like you’ve always had mine,” Buolamwini tweeted. “You are brilliant and respected. You listen to the others easily ignoring. You ask difficult questions not to promote yourself, but to uplift the societies we owe our foundation. I’m proud to call you head mentor friend sister. ”
Hours earlier, the news came that the National Labor Relations Board had filed a complaint with Google for firing two workers last year in the wake of the workers’ organization. At the time, Google said employees, Laurence Berland and Kathryn Spiers, had violated security policies and internal systems. But the NLRB found that these rules violated labor laws and alleged Berland and Spiers had done nothing wrong.
Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Verge.