Timnit Gebru: Google staff rally behind fired AI researcher


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Timnit Gebru says she was fired after sending an internal email that accused Google of “silencing marginalised voices”.

Hundreds of colleagues have signed a letter accusing the search giant of racism and censorship, while Twitter users have rallied around Dr Gebru using the hashtag #BelieveBlackWomen.

Google disputes her version of events.

Dr Gebru is a well-respected researcher in the field of ethics and the use of artificial intelligence.

She is well-known for her work on racial bias in technology such as facial recognition, and has criticised systems that fail to recognise black faces.

Her co-author on one of those well-known papers, Joy Buolamwini, said Dr Gebru “deserved more” from Google.

“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,” she said.

“We owe her a debt of gratitude for advancing not just the field of artificial intelligence, but for advancing equality with humility and grace.”

Dr Gebru alleges that as she was preparing to go on leave, she 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 sent an email to an internal group called “Brain Women and Allies”, criticising the decision. A copy of the email has been published by Platformer.

“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.”

Dr Gebru had emailed her management laying out some key conditions for removing her name from the paper, and if they were not met, she would “work on a last date” for her employment.

According to Dr 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 behaviour that is inconsistent with the expectations of a Google manager.”

Dr Gebru denied she had resigned, tweeting that she had been fired by Jeff Dean, a senior manager at Google dealing with AI Research.

“I guess [management] decided for me”, she said.


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