It is reported that hundreds of Google staff have recently signed a letter supporting a famous Artificial Intelligence (AI) ethics researcher who was fired by Google. The leading ethics researcher is Timnit Gebru. Her position in Google was the co-lead of the Ethical Artificial Intelligence Team. Timnit Gebru was fired after sending an email that accused Google. Her colleagues in the giant IT company have signed a letter accusing that Google is doing censorship and racism.
On the other hand, Twitter users gather together around Dr. Gebru to support her as well by using a hashtag #BelieveBlackWomen. However, Google denies the AI researcher’s version of events. Timnit Gebru is a well-respected AI researcher in the use of artificial intelligence and the field of ethics. She is famous for her work on racial bias in technology. She also has criticized that failure to recognize black faces. Joy Buolamwini, Timni Gebru’s co-author mentioned in one of those well-known papers that Dr. Gebru deserved more from Google.
She says that Google’s credibility can be severely damaged by firing Dr. Gebru for her courage to demand integrity. Joy Buolamwini also adds that we all owe Dr. Gebru a debt for advancing the artificial intelligence field as well as equality with grace and humility.
What Exactly Happened?
Timnit Gebru alleges that she was summoned to a meeting that would discuss a research paper she had co-written when she was about to go on leave. Dr. Gebru mentioned that she was ordered to withdraw the research paper. She was also told that Google was not ready to get involved in a discussion about the matter. After the meeting, Timnit Gebru criticized the decision via an email sent to an internal group called ‘Brain Women and Allies.’ Platformer has published the copy of the email.
Dr. Timnit Gebru started the email by saying that her fellows in the group are not worth having a conversation she would talk about. She also said that members of the group do not have to write their documents anymore because it would not make any difference. Timnit Gebru had sent an email to her management laying out several key requirements to remove her name from the paper. And if they were not met, she would ‘work on the last date’ for her employment.
According to the female AI researcher, Google replied, “We respect your decision to leave Google… and we are accepting your resignation.” Google continued by saying that the end of Dr. Gebru’s employment should happen quicker. The reason is because Google finds that some particular aspects of the email sent by Dr. Gebru to her non-management group reflects behavior that does not meet Google’s manager expectations. This is what is considered as Google fired Dr. Timnit Gebru.
Dr. Gebru disputed whether she had resigned. She tweeted that Jeff Dean, a senior manager at Google who handles AI research, had fired her. She guessed that the management decided for her. The research paper that Dr. Gebru had co-written remains unpublished. However, the MIT Technology Review has summarized the content of the research paper, stating that it focused on the risks of training AI by utilizing huge archives of text data.
How Has the Reaction Been?
The open letter that shows support for Dr. Gebru has attracted almost 2,000 signatories since her dismissal. The signatories are both from within Google and the wider industry. Timnit Gebru said on her Twitter, “It has been very uplifting for me to see.” The news about her dismissal came out on the same day when a US labor agency accused the research giant of illegally firing staff because of their involvement in union activity. Staff at Google who worked with Dr. Gebru have praised her academic contributions as well as her work as a manager.
An AI researcher, Deb Raji said on his Twitter that he cannot count how many times she encouraged them, spoken out for them, and defended them. Deb Raji also tweeted, “She has made real sacrifices for the Black community. Now it’s time to stand with her!”
What Does Google Say?
Jeff Dean mentioned in an email that there had been so many speculations and misunderstandings about the firing incident. Mr. Dean alleged that Timnit Gebru’s research paper was submitted a day before the deadline. So that there was not enough time for Google to review it. He also added that the research paper ignored relevant research.
What do you think about this event?