Google is experiencing more fallout from its handling of Dr. Timnit Gebru’s dismissal, with the company’s AI researchers making demands.
The company was cast in the spotlight when news broke that Dr. Gebru, one of the world’s leading AI ethics researchers had left the company. Google claimed Gebru had resigned, but she and her coworkers say she was fired.
Much of the issue stemmed from Gebru and her fellow researchers authoring a paper that raised concerns about the kind of AI Google uses in a number of projects. The controversy led CEO Sundar Pichai to apologize for how the situation was handled, although even the apology drew criticism for being tone-deaf, both from those inside and outside the company.
AI researchers within the company are now demanding changes, according to an email seen by Bloomberg. One such demand is that a company vice president, Megan Kacholia, be removed from the reporting chain. The researches said they had “lost trust in her as a leader.”
The researches also demanded the freedom to pursue research, even if it conflicted with Google’s short-term interests.
“Google’s short-sighted decision to fire and retaliate against a core member of the Ethical AI team makes it clear that we need swift and structural changes if this work is to continue, and if the legitimacy of the field as a whole is to persevere,” the letter reads.
“This research must be able to contest the company’s short-term interests and immediate revenue agendas, as well as to investigate AI that is deployed by Google’s competitors with similar ethical motives,” the researchers added.
Google’s response could have profound impacts on the company’s AI endeavors moving forward. Although it is one of the leading companies in the field, if Google loses the respect of the AI community, it could quickly find itself struggling to attract top talent — especially if that talent has legitimate reason to believe it will be censored.