The recent firing of Google AI researchers has led to an uproar within the company. The outbreak of this awful news has drawn significant attention to Google.
For a stretch of years – a long one at that – Google has worked their way to the position of being responsible stewards of AI. Its research lab hires skilled professionals who have made groundbreaking achievements in their fields. Google reportedly takes prospective hires through a strict, and carefully handled the process. All of this stated above and more are the very reason this scandal has gone a long way in damaging the highly esteemed image and reputation of the company.
Timnit Gebru and Margaret Mitchell, two of Google’s top AI ethics researchers were let go quite recently. As mentioned earlier, their termination caused a rouse in the company. Many people have come together to protest against the decision to let them go. Both workers were examining the downsides of technology integral to Google’s search product before the termination of their employment.
Since the termination of these researchers, there have been several displays of displeasure from staff and the general public alike. Two Google researchers withdrew from the workshop and one turned down a grant worth $60,000 from the company. In only a week, Google has lost a handful of important staff. As a result of Gebru’s employment termination, two engineers quit in solidarity and protest.
Merely a week ago, one of Google’s top AI research managers, Samy Bengio resigned. This man in question oversaw hundreds of workers and was a great asset to them. In his response to the situation, he mentioned that he was stunned by what happened to Gebru.
A few people are concerned with all that is happening. They believe that Google has shown a willingness to suppress science. Scott Niekum is one of those who are concerned. Niekum is an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin who works on robotics and machine learning. In his account, he said, “Not only does it make me deeply question the commitment to ethics and diversity inside the company, but it worries me that they’ve shown a willingness to suppress science that doesn’t align with their business interests”.
Deb Raji from the Mozilla foundation who also works on AI credibility also had something to say in the matter. She said, “It definitely hurts their credibility in the fairness and AI ethics space…..I don’t think the machine learning community has been very open about conflicts of interest due to industry participation in research.” Niekum and Raji and many others inside and outside of Google were shocked by what happened to Gebru and Mitchell who are co-leads of the company’s ethical AI team. It is believed that Gebru was fired last December. She had an argument with managers over a research paper she co-authored with Mitchell and others. Of course, we do not expect Google to admit this and honestly, we are far from disappointed when Google disputes this account and says Gebru resigned.
On another hand, Mitchell was reportedly fired in February. It is rumoured that she was fired after searching her email for anything that could implicate Gebru. Approximately 2,700 employees and more than 4,300 academics signed a medium post criticizing “unprecedented research censorship” After Gebru was let go in December.
Terminating the employment of Gebru and Mitchell has made a lot of people less confident in the credibility of their employment. David Baker, one of the employees who quit in protest early this year says that Gebru’s treatment has seriously shaken his confidence in the company.
“I think it definitely calls into question whether Google can be trusted to honestly question the ethical applications to its technology’ said Baker. So many others feel the same way, enough to quit their jobs before they’re fired like Mitchell and Gebru.
Naturally, a lot of people are analysing this situation and are convinced that this is not the first time and neither will it be the last that Google will fire people for doing their jobs right.
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