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Why a Young Professor Turned Down a $60,000 Research Grant From Google

“When Luke Stark sought money from Google in November he had no idea he’d be turning down $60,000 from the tech giant in March,” reports CNN:

Stark, an assistant professor at Western University in Ontario, Canada, studies the social and ethical impacts of artificial intelligence. In late November, he applied for a Google Research Scholar award, a no-strings-attached research grant of up to $60,000 to support professors who are early in their careers. He put in for the award, he said, “because of my sense at the time that Google was building a really strong, potentially industry-leading ethical AI team….”

Gebru’s ouster kicked off a months-long crisis for the company, including employee departures, a leadership shuffle, and an apology from Google’s CEO for how the circumstances of Gebru’s departure caused some employees to question their place there. Google conducted an internal investigation into the matter, results of which were announced on the same day the company fired Gebru’s co-team leader, Margaret Mitchell, who had been consistently critical of the company on Twitter following Gebru’s exit. (Google cited “multiple violations” of its code of conduct.) Meanwhile, researchers outside Google, particularly in AI, have become increasingly distrustful of the company’s historically well-regarded scholarship and angry over its treatment of Gebru and Mitchell.

All of this came into sharp focus for Stark on Wednesday, March 10, when Google sent him a congratulatory note, offering him $60,000 for his proposal for a research project that would look at how companies are rolling out AI that is used to detect emotions. Stark said he immediately felt he needed to reject the award to show his support for Gebru and Mitchell, as well as those who yet remain on the ethical AI team at Google…

Gebru said she appreciated Stark’s action.

Stark is the first person to turn down one of the 6,500 academic and research grants Google has given out over the last 15 years, the company tells CNN. But CNN also notes some AI conference organizers are now rethinking having Google as a sponsor.

“The widening fallout from Google’s tensions with its ethical AI team now pose a risk to the company’s reputation and stature in the AI community. This is crucial as Google battles for talent — both as employees at the company and names connected to it in the academic community.”


Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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