(Natural News) Google has fired Margaret Mitchell, the founder and co-head of its artificial intelligence ethics unit, for violating the company’s code of conduct.
The firing came less than three months after the controversial exit of another senior figure in the company’s AI ethics unit, Timnit Gebru.
Google said that an investigation found Mitchell had moved files outside the company.
“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 a statement.
Mitchell apparently used an automated script to look through her emails in order to find evidence regarding the ousting of Gebru. She had been locked out of Google’s systems for the past five weeks before her firing.
Despite her position in the company, Mitchell was a fierce critic of Google. Both Mitchell and Gebru had campaigned for more diversity at Google and raised concerns about censorship within the company.
According to her LinkedIn, Mitchell joined Google in 2016 as a senior research scientist. Two years later, she helped start the ethical AI team alongside Gebru.
She tweeted “I’m fired” shortly after learning the company’s decision.
A day before Mitchell’s firing, Google announced the reorganization of its AI teams working on ethics and fairness.
The company said that Marian Croak, a prominent Black executive from its engineering department, would now be leading “a new center of expertise on responsible AI within Google Research.” She would report to Jeff Dean, the company’s AI division head.
Dean wanted a fresh start. In an internal email, he apologized to staff for how the company handled Gebru’s departure.
“I heard and acknowledged 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,” Dean said.
Gebru’s abrupt exit puts Google in bad light
Gebru is a renowned researcher known for her work on bias in facial recognition technology. In 2018, she helped stop the rollout of an Amazon facial recognition system being used by police agencies. She demonstrated that the flawed Amazon system was 34 percent less capable of correctly identifying black women compared to its ability to correctly identify white men because the dataset used to train the AI mostly contained white faces.
Her abrupt exit from Google came as a shock.
In December 2020, Gebru was called to a meeting about a research paper she had co-written. She said she was ordered to retract the research paper and that Google was not prepared to engage in a discussion about the matter.
Following the meeting, she criticized the decision in an email sent to an internal group called “Brain Women and Allies.”
“You are not worth having any conversations about this, since you are not someone whose humanity… is acknowledged or valued in this company,” she said in the email. “Stop writing your documents because it doesn’t make a difference.”
Gebru also emailed the management, laying out some key conditions for removing her name from the paper. If they were not met, Gebru said that she would “work on a last date” for her employment.
According to Gebru, Google replied: “We respect your decision to leave Google… and we are accepting your resignation. However, we believe the end of your employment should happen faster than your email reflects because certain aspects of the email you sent last night to non-management employees in the brain group reflect behavior that is inconsistent with the expectations of a Google manager.”
Gebru denied she had resigned. “I guess [management] decided for me,” she said. (Related: Google has abandoned tech innovation to focus on “social justice” internal wars and feuds, targeting non-compliant employees for termination.)
The research paper titled “On the Dangers of Stochastic Parrots: Can Language Models be Too Big?” remains unpublished.
After learning Gebru’s fate, many within the scientific community questioned the ethics of conducting research with big technology companies. Since her dismissal, an open letter supporting Gebru has attracted thousands of signatories from within Google and the wider industry.
“Ousting Timnit for having the audacity to demand research integrity severely undermines Google’s credibility for supporting rigorous research on AI ethics and algorithmic auditing,” said Buolamwini. “We owe her a debt of gratitude for advancing not just the field of artificial intelligence, but for advancing equality with humility and grace.”
Google staff who worked with Gebru also applauded her academic contributions and her work as a manager. “I cannot count the number of times Timnit Gebru has encouraged us, spoken out for us, defended us and stuck her neck out for us,” tweeted Deb Raji, an AI researcher.
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