Google has once again found itself in hot water for firing renowned artificial intelligence researcher Timnit Gebru. More than 1,200 employees of the search engine giant and hundreds of researchers are now speaking in protest after the prominent Black scientists took to Twitter to announce that she has been fired. The researcher said that she was fired as she questioned the review process of Google for academic papers. Gebru had sent the email to an internal group for women and allies who work in the Artificial Intelligence unit of the company. Gebru was the technical co-lead of the Ethical Artificial Intelligence team of the company. She had criticized the company in an email.
Gebru is one of the top researchers on Artificial Intelligence ethics in the world and has published several papers demonstrating its racial and gender biases. Such is her popularity that she has her own Wikipedia page. But Google, who has been investing heavily in Artificial Intelligence, has apparently decided that it is better off without Gebru. People across fields are mobilized as the development could have a wide-ranging impact. The development comes close on the heels of Google facing criticism for its treatment of employees and Gebru is one of the very few Black women who are at the top position in the industry. Gebru was among just 2.4 percent of Black employees of the company before being handed a pink slip.
Gebru said that she got to know about her departure from someone she previously worked with as she was on vacation. She said that her corporate email account was also cut off. The researcher said that she was surprised after her superiors rejected a study she co-authored with multiple outside researchers and with four other employees of the company. Gebru said that she will take her name off the study if Google could explain the reason it rejected the paper. After sharing her story on the social media platform, Gebru received an outpouring of support. A petition backing Gebru has so far been signed by 1,200 employees of Google. Dean has not addressed the queries regarding the petition and said they have important work ahead. After the resignation of Gebru, people have now started to question the legitimacy of Google’s AI ethics research.