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'This is bigger than just Timnit': How Google tried to silence a critic and ignited a movement

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Timnit Gebru--a giant in the world of AI and then co-lead of Google's AI ethics team--was pushed out of her job in December. Gebru had been fighting with the company over a research paper that she'd coauthored, which explored the risks of the AI models that the search giant uses to power its core products--the models are involved in almost every English query on Google, for instance. The paper called out the potential biases (racial, gender, Western, and more) of these language models, as well as the outsize carbon emissions required to compute them. Google wanted the paper retracted, or any Google-affiliated authors' names taken off; Gebru said she would do so if Google would engage in a conversation about the decision. Instead, her team was told that she had resigned. After the company abruptly announced Gebru's departure, Google AI chief Jeff Dean insinuated that her work was not up to snuff--despite Gebru's credentials and history of groundbreaking research.


Timnit Gebru is part of a wave of Black women working to change AI

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A computer scientist who said she was pushed out of her job at Google in December 2020 has marked the one-year anniversary of her ouster with a new research institute aiming to support the creation of ethical artificial intelligence. Timnit Gebru, a known advocate for diversity in AI, announced the launch of the Distributed Artificial Intelligence Research Institute, or DAIR. Its website describes it as "a space for independent, community-rooted AI research free from Big Tech's pervasive influence." Part of how Gebru imagines creating such research is by moving away from the Silicon Valley ethos of "move fast and break things" -- which was Facebook's internal motto, coined by Mark Zuckerberg, until 2014 -- to instead take a more deliberate approach to creating new technologies that serve marginalized communities. That includes recognizing and mitigating technologies' potentials for harm from the beginning of their creation process, rather than after they've already caused damage to those communities, Gebru told NBC News.


From whistleblower laws to unions: How Google's AI ethics meltdown could shape policy

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It's been two weeks since Google fired Timnit Gebru, a decision that still seems incomprehensible. Gebru is one of the most highly regarded AI ethics researchers in the world, a pioneer whose work has highlighted the ways tech fails marginalized communities when it comes to facial recognition and more recently large language models. Of course, this incident didn't happen in a vacuum. Case in point: Gebru was fired the same day the National Labor Review Board (NLRB) filed a complaint against Google for illegally spying on employees and the retaliatory firing of employees interested in unionizing. Gebru's dismissal also calls into question issues of corporate influence in research, demonstrates the shortcomings of self-regulation, and highlights the poor treatment of Black people and women in tech in a year when Black Lives Matter sparked the largest protest movement in U.S. history. In an interview with VentureBeat last week, Gebru called the way she was fired disrespectful and described a companywide memo sent by CEO Sundar Pichai as "dehumanizing." To delve further into possible outcomes following Google's AI ethics meltdown, VentureBeat spoke with five experts in the field about Gebru's dismissal and the issues it raises.


Hundreds of Google workers condemn firing of AI scientist Timnit Gebru

The Guardian

Hundreds of Google employees and more than 1,000 academic researchers are speaking out in protest after a prominent Black scientist studying the ethics of artificial intelligence said she was fired by Google after the company attempted to suppress her research and she criticized its diversity efforts. Timnit Gebru, who was the technical co-lead of Google's Ethical AI team, wrote on Twitter on Wednesday that she had been fired after sending an email to an internal group for women and allies working in the company's AI unit. The email, which was first published by the tech newsletter Platformer, referenced a dispute over a research paper, but more broadly expressed frustration at Google's diversity programs. In it, Gebru argued that "there is zero accountability" or real incentive for Google leadership to change. "Your life gets worse when you start advocating for underrepresented people, you start making the other leaders upset," Gebru wrote.


How one employee's exit shook Google and the AI industry

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In September, Timnit Gebru, then co-leader of the ethical AI team at Google, sent a private message on Twitter to Emily Bender, a computational linguistics professor at the University of Washington. "Hi Emily, I'm wondering if you've written something regarding ethical considerations of large language models or something you could recommend from others?" she asked, referring to a buzzy kind of artificial intelligence software trained on text from an enormous number of webpages. The question may sound unassuming but it touched on something central to the future of Google's foundational product: search. This kind of AI has become increasingly capable and popular in the last couple years, driven largely by language models from Google and research lab OpenAI. Such AI can generate text, mimicking everything from news articles and recipes to poetry, and it has quickly become key to Google Search, which the company said responds to trillions of queries each year. In late 2019, the company started relying on such AI to help answer one in 10 English-language queries from US users; nearly a year later, the company said it was handling nearly all English queries and is also being used to answer queries in dozens of other languages.