Timnit Gebru, one of the best-known AI researchers today and co-lead of an AI ethics team at Google, said she was fired Wednesday for sending an email to “non-management employees that is inconsistent with the expectations of a Google manager.” VentureBeat reports: She said Google AI employees who report to her were emailed and told that she accepted her resignation when she did not offer her resignation. According to Casey Newton’s Platformer, who reportedly obtained a copy, Gebru sent the email in question to the Google Brain Women and Allies listserv. In it, Gebru expresses frustration with the lack of progress in hiring women at Google and lack of accountability for failure to make progress. She also said was told not to publish a piece of research and advised employees to no longer fill out diversity paperwork because it didn’t matter. No mention is made of resignation.
“There is no way more documents or more conversations will achieve anything. We just had a Black research all hands with such an emotional show of exasperation. Do you know what happened since? Silencing in the most fundamental way possible,” the email reads. When asked by VentureBeat for comment, a Google spokesperson provided a link to the Platformer article with a copy of an email sent Thursday by Google AI chief Jeff Dean to company research staff. In it, Dean said a research paper written by Gebru and other researchers was submitted for publication at a conference before completing a review process and addressing feedback. In response, Dean said he received an email from Gebru.
“Timnit wrote that if we didn’t meet these demands, she would leave Google and work on an end date. We accept and respect her decision to resign from Google,” he said. “Given Timnit’s role as a respected researcher and a manager in our Ethical AI team, I feel badly that Timnit has gotten to a place where she feels this way about the work we’re doing. I also feel badly that hundreds of you received an email just this week from Timnit telling you to stop work on critical DEI programs. Please don’t. I understand the frustration about the pace of progress, but we have important work ahead and we need to keep at it.”
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