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Timnit Gebru, an AI researcher at Google was recently fired by the company over the ongoing conflicts at the search giant over diversity and ethics.
On the evening of Wednesday, December 2, Gebru, the co-lead of Google’s ethical AI team, announced the news via Twitter.
She is a widely respected leader in AI ethics research, is known for coauthoring a groundbreaking paper that showed facial recognition to be less accurate at identifying women and people of color, which means its use can end up discriminating against them.
In the wake of her dismissal, two of her colleagues an engineering director and a software developer too have called it quits.
David Baker, a director focused on user safety, left Google last month after 16 years because Gebru’s exit “extinguished my desire to continue as a Googler,” he said in a letter seen by Reuters.
Baker added, “We cannot say we believe in diversity, and then ignore the conspicuous absence of many voices from within our walls.”
The other is an Indian-origin software engineer, Vinesh Kannan, who too on Wednesday, January 3 announced on Twitter saying that he had left the company on Tuesday because Google mistreated Gebru and April Christina Curley, a recruiter who has said she was wrongly fired last year.
Both Gebru and Curley identify as Black. “They were wronged,” Kannan said.
The team that Gebru helped build at Google is one of the most diverse in AI and includes many leading experts in their own right. Peers in the field envied it for producing critical work that often challenged mainstream AI practices.
Google has been facing a lot of back slash from within the organization with forming of union who are for making Google a more open and ethical company, in regards to users’ data and privacy.
More than 800 people joined a union announced last month to advance workplace protections, and more than 2,600 of its 1,35,000 employees signed a December letter supporting Gebru.
Baker, whose resignation letter was shared with an internal affinity group for Black employees, told Reuters he stood by his remarks. Kannan did not have an immediate comment.
Gebru, who co-led a team on AI ethics, says she pushed back on orders to pull research that speech technology like Google’s could disadvantage marginalized groups. Reuters reported in December that Google had told some staff not to cast its technology in a negative light.