Prominent Google AI ethicist says I’m fired, company explains

Google has abruptly fired Timnit Gebru, one of the top artificial intelligence (AI) researchers at the company, allegedly for not retracting a research paper she wrote with four fellow Googlers that needed to go through the internal review process.

Famous for her work on algorithmic bias, particularly in facial recognition technology, Gebru who was the technical co-lead of Google’s Ethical Artificial Intelligence Team took to Twitter to explain why she has been fired.

“Apparently my manager’s manager sent an email my direct reports saying she accepted my resignation. I hadn’t resigned — I had asked for simple conditions first and said I would respond when I’m back from vacation. But I guess she decided for me 🙂 that’s the lawyer speak,” she said in a tweet on Thursday.

According to Megan Kacholia, vice president of engineering at Google Research, Gebru could not meet the conditions and accepted her resignation as a result,

According to Gebru, the decision to fire her actually came from Google’s head of AI, Jeff Dean.

Dean later explained the whole saga in an email to Google staff that was accessed and published by Platformer.

“Timnit co-authored a paper with four fellow Googlers as well as some external collaborators that needed to go through our review process (as is the case with all externally submitted papers),” he wrote.

“Unfortunately, this particular paper was only shared with a day’s notice before its deadline — we require two weeks for this sort of review — and then instead of awaiting reviewer feedback, it was approved for submission and submitted,” he continued.

“A cross functional team then reviewed the paper as part of our regular process and the authors were informed that it didn’t meet our bar for publication and were given feedback about why.”

Gebru, an alumni of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, wrote on Twitter: “I said here are the conditions. If you can meet them great I’ll take my name off this paper, if not then I can work on a last date. Then she sent an email to my direct reports saying she has accepted my resignation. So that is google for you folks. You saw it happen right here”.

Supporting Gebru, the Google Walkout for Change group posted from its Twitter account: “Dr Gebru is a pathbreaking scientist doing some of the most important work to ensure just and accountable AI and to create a welcoming and diverse AI research field”.

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