OAKLAND, California (Reuters) – A top Google researcher on ethical intelligence says she was fired after criticizing the company’s diversity efforts, a claim the Alphabet Inc unit disputed Thursday in the latest encouragement between the internet giant and labor activists. .
Timnit Gebru, who is black, said on Twitter that she was fired on Wednesday after sending an email to colleagues expressing frustration over gender diversity within Google’s AI unit and asking if business leaders reviewed her work more strictly than for people with different backgrounds. Gebru co-founded the non-profit Black in AI, which aims to increase the representation of people of color in artificial intelligence and co-authored a landmark on bias in facial analysis technology.
Jeff Dean, head of Google’s AI unit, told staff in an email reviewed by Reuters that Gebru had threatened to resign unless she was told which colleagues considered a draft paper she wrote unpublished, a claim Dean declined.
“We accept and respect her decision to withdraw from Google,” Dean wrote in the email, adding, “We all truly share Timnit’s passion for making AI fairer and more inclusive.”
Gebru said in a series of Twitter posts that Google cut her off from her systems without warning or talking to her about her concerns.
Gebru’s abrupt departure adds years of anxiety, including several layoffs and layoffs, in the AI department and other organizations at Google over diversity and whether the company’s efforts to minimize potential damage to services are sufficient.
More than 150 employees expressed support for Gebru, demanding that Google strengthen its commitment to academic freedom and explain why they chose to “censor” her thesis, according to a petition posted online. Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund, wrote on Twitter that Gebru’s firing was “absolutely outrageous” and “a disaster.”
Just Wednesday, the National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint accusing Google of illegally monitoring and questioning several workers who were then fired for protesting against the company’s policies and trying to organize a union.
Gebru’s newspaper claimed that technology companies could do more to ensure that AI systems aimed at mimicking human writing and speech do not exacerbate historical gender disruptions and the use of offensive language, according to a draft copy seen by Reuters.
In his email to staff, Dean said the paper had not been given to the company for review in a timely manner and was sent to a conference without Google’s permission.
He also questioned some of the conclusions, which he said were dependent on outdated concerns, including the environmental impact of a large number of computers that crunch data.
In response to the company’s rejection of her work, Gebru wrote on Twitter last week: “Nothing like a bunch of privileged white men trying to squash research of marginalized societies for marginalized societies by asking them to STOP ZERO conversations. The amount of disrespect is incredible. ”
Google declined to comment on its departure beyond Dean’s email, which was first reported by tech news site Platformer.
Gebru previously worked at Microsoft Research, and she was a co-author of a paper cited in 2018, which found higher error rates in face analysis technology for women with darker skin tones.
Her new article, which was written with non-Google employees, is still expected to be presented at a computer science conference in March, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Reporting by Paresh Dave and Jeffrey Dastin; Clip by Daniel Wallis