Over 1,500 Google employees and 2,000 academic, industry, and civil society supporters have signed a petition protesting the firing of Timnit Gebru, a Black artificial intelligence ethicist and scientist. Gerbu claims she was fired by Google after raising concerns about the tech giant’s diversity protocols.
“We, the undersigned, stand in solidarity with Dr. Timnit Gebru, who was terminated from her position as Staff Research Scientist and Co-Lead of Ethical Artificial Intelligence (AI) team at Google, following unprecedented research censorship,” the petition reads.
“We call on Google Research to strengthen its commitment to research integrity and to unequivocally commit to supporting research that honors the commitments made in Google’s AI Principles.”
Last Wednesday (December 2), Gebru, in a series of tweets, revealed she was fired after she expressed frustration in an email sent to an internal group for women and allies working in the company’s AI unit about Google’s lack of diversity initiatives.
According to Gizmo, Gebru also wrote in an email, “Your life gets worse when you start advocating for underrepresented people, you start making the other leaders upset,” Gebru penned in the email. “There is no way more documents or more conversations will achieve anything.”
Reuters reports Gebru’s email stems from a November incident in which a Google senior manager told Gebru she’d have to retract or remove her name from a paper she had co-authored. The paper had concluded that tech companies are not doing enough to ensure AI systems do not exacerbate the use of offensive language or historical gender biases.
In an interview with Wired after she was terminated, Gebru claims she attempted to negotiate with Google in hopes the company would provide a full explanation of its objections to her paper and outline a list of best solutions for their AI strategies moving forward.
“I felt like we were being censored and thought this had implications for all of ethical AI research,” she told the publication.
“You’re not going to have papers that make the company happy all the time and don’t point out problems. That’s antithetical to what it means to be that kind of researcher.”
After rejecting the deal, Google allegedly informed the AI team they accepted Gebru’s resignation. In that email, which was reviewed by Reuters, the head of Google’s AI unit Jeff Dean, claimed Gebru had threatened to resign unless she was told which colleagues deemed the paper she wrote was unpublishable. He rejected it.
“We accept and respect her decision to resign from Google,” Dean wrote in the email. “We all genuinely share Timnit’s passion to make AI more equitable and inclusive.”
(Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images for Bloomberg Businessweek)