Originally published 3 Dec 20
Hundreds of Google employees have published an open letter following the firing of an accomplished scientist known for her research into the ethics of artificial intelligence and her work showing racial bias in facial recognition technology.
That scientist, Timnit Gebru, helped lead Google's Ethical Artificial Intelligence Team until Tuesday.
Gebru, who is Black, says she was forced out of the company after a dispute over a research paper and an email she subsequently sent to peers expressing frustration over how the tech giant treats employees of color and women.
"Instead of being embraced by Google as an exceptionally talented and prolific contributor, Dr. Gebru has faced defensiveness, racism, gaslighting, research censorship, and now a retaliatory firing," the open letter said. By Thursday evening, more than 400 Google employees and hundreds of outsiders — many of them academics — had signed it.
The research paper in question was co-authored by Gebru along with four others at Google and two other researchers. It examined the environmental and ethical implications of an AI tool used by Google and other technology companies, according to NPR's review of the draft paper.
The 12-page draft explored the possible pitfalls of relying on the tool, which scans massive amounts of information on the Internet and produces text as if written by a human. The paper argued it could end up mimicking hate speech and other types of derogatory and biased language found online. The paper also cautioned against the energy cost of using such large-scale AI models.
According to Gebru, she was planning to present the paper at a research conference next year, but then her bosses at Google stepped in and demanded she retract the paper or remove all the Google employees as authors.