Google has fired Margaret Mitchell, one of the company’s top
artificial intelligence researchers.
The reason being that she used an automated script to explore
her emails for potential proof of discrimination against her colleague, Timnit
Gebru – another leading employee on company’s AI ethics team who had gotten
The decision of firing Mitchell comes one day after Google
praised its AI teams for working on impartiality and ethics. Marian Croak, a Vice
President in the engineering organization, is now made in charge of “a new
center of expertise on responsible AI within Google Research,” Google announced
in a blog post.
In a statement to a media organization, Google said that the
decision was made through weeks’ long investigation that found her guilty of sharing
electronic files outside the company. According to the company, Mitchell
violated the Google’s policies regarding security and code of conduct.
“After conducting a review of this manager’s conduct, we
confirmed that there were multiple violations of our code of conduct, as well
as of our security policies, which included the exfiltration of confidential
business-sensitive documents and private data of other employees,” Google said
in an statement.
Google’s conduct with its employees in the artificial
intelligence research department has been under inspection since December’s
expulsion of Gebru, a leading Black researcher in Silicon Valley. Gebru’s
termination sparked anger and distrust among Google’s employees who are
accusing the company for discrimination.
Gebru claimed that she was terminated because of raising
speculations on the company’s decision of not publishing a paper regarding AI
language mimicking technology that could harm marginalized communities.
According to one employee, the decision of Mitchell’s firing
was informed to her team on Friday in an urgently called meeting. The person
claimed that limited information and reasoning had been given to them for her
dismissal. Alex Hanna, a senior researcher of Mitchell’s team, took to twitter
to express her distrust in the company’s investigation. She wrote, “We were
told to trust the process, trust in decision-makers like Marian Croak to look
out for our best interests. But these decisions were made behind our backs.”
Gebru and Mitchell had been co-leading the ethics in
artificial intelligence team for almost two years. They criticized the company
for its lack of diversity and expressed concern that the company might be
censoring criticism of its products.
On Friday, Google announced that it is introducing some
changes into its research and diversity policies after an investigation into
Gebru’s dismissal. In an email sent to employees, Jeff Dean apologized for
mishandling Gebru’s departure from the company. “I heard and acknowledge what
Dr. Gebru’s exit signified to female technologists, to those in the Black
community and other underrepresented groups who are pursuing careers in tech,
and to many who care deeply about Google’s responsible use of AI. It led some
to question their place here, which I regret,” he stated.
The back-to-back termination of company’s leading women
researchers has caused many within the scientific community to question ethics
of conducting research with the world’s leading technology companies.
After the dismissal, hundreds of employees signed a letter in
support of the women, prompting the company’s Chief Executive, Sundar Pichai to
respond and apologize for the way the two were made to exit the company.
Google hires top scientists and researchers with promises to
give them research liberty, but their limits are often tested as researchers
constantly write about adverse effects of technology and offer undesirable
opinions on their products.
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