Leading AI Ethics Researcher Says Google Fired Her

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Before joining Google in 2018, Gebru worked with MIT researcher Joy Buolamwini on a project called Gender Shades which found that IBM and Microsoft’s face analysis technology was very accurate for white males but very inaccurate. for black women. This helped push U.S. lawmakers and technologists to question and test the accuracy of facial recognition on different demographics, and helped Microsoft, IBM, and Amazon announce they would halt sales of the technology this time. year. Gebru also co-founded an influential conference called Black in AI which attempts to increase the diversity of researchers contributing to this field.

Gebru’s departure was sparked when she collaborated with researchers inside and outside Google on an article discussing ethical issues raised by recent advances in AI language software.

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Researchers have made tremendous progress on issues like generating text and answering questions by creating giant machine learning models trained on huge swathes of online text. Google said technology has made its lucrative, eponymous search engine more powerful. But the researchers also showed that creating these more powerful models consumes large amounts of electricity due to the vast computing resources required, and documented how the models can reproduce biased language about gender and race found online.

Gebru says his draft paper discussed these issues and encouraged responsible use of technology, for example by documenting data used to create language models. She was troubled when the senior director insisted that she and other Google authors either removed their name from the document or removed it altogether, especially when she couldn’t learn the process used to review the project. “I felt like we were being censored and I thought it had implications for all ethical AI research,” she says.

Gebru says she failed to convince the senior manager to resolve the issues with the newspaper; she says the principal insisted that she withdraw her name. On Tuesday, Gebru responded by email to offer her a deal: If she received a full explanation of what had happened and the research team met with management to agree on a process for fair treatment of future research, she would remove her name from the document. Otherwise, she would arrange to leave the company at a later date, leaving her free to publish the article without the company’s affiliation.

Gebru also emailed a larger list within Google’s AI research group, claiming managers’ attempts to improve diversity had been ineffective. She included a description of her dispute over the language document as an example of how Google officials can silence people from marginalized groups. Platformer published a copy of the email on Thursday.

On Wednesday, Gebru said, she learned from her direct reports that they had been told she had quit Google and that her resignation had been accepted. She discovered that her corporate account was disabled.

An e-mail sent by a manager to Gebru’s personal address indicated that her resignation was to take effect immediately, as she had sent an e-mail reflecting “behavior incompatible with the expectations of a manager at Google”. Gebru took to Twitter and outrage quickly grew among online AI researchers.

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Many Google critics, both inside and outside the company, noted that the company had suddenly undermined the diversity of its AI workforce and also had lost a leading advocate for the improvement of this diversity. Gebru suspects his treatment was in part motivated by his outspokenness about diversity and Google’s treatment of people from marginalized groups. “We argued for representation, but there are hardly any blacks in Google Research and, from what I see, no leader at all,” she said.

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