Timnit Gebru fallout continues at Google AI research unit, with Samy Bengio being the latest and highest profile staffer to resign from the team
Alphabet’s Google division continues to witness ongoing repercussions from its ‘firing’ of artificial intelligence (AI) researcher Dr Timnit Gebru.
Google research manager Samy Bengio announced on Tuesday he was resigning, after Reuters viewed his internal resignation email.
Bengio is the highest profile staffer to resign over the matter, and is a 14 year Google veteran.
Indeed Bengio is a noted Canadian computer scientist and was a co-founder of a decade-old project known as Google Brain that developed algorithms crucial to the functioning of modern AI systems.
Reuters reported that Google confirmed Bengio’s resignation and his email.
Bengio reportedly did not respond to requests for comment.
Bengio in his internal email reportedly said he decided to leave Google to pursue “other exciting opportunities” and that his last day would be 28 April.
“I learned so much with all of you, in terms of machine learning research of course, but also on how difficult yet important it is to organize a large team of researchers so as to promote long term ambitious research, exploration, rigor, diversity and inclusion,” he reportedly wrote in his email.
Bengio has reportedly previously defended Dr Timnit Gebru and scientist Margaret Mitchell who was fired in February.
In December, Bengio reportedly wrote on Facebook that he was stunned that Gebru, whom he was managing, was removed from the company without him being consulted.
Though he did not mention the firings in his farewell note, they influenced his decision to resign, people familiar with the matter told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Google also recently transferred oversight of the AI ethics team from Bengio to vice president Marian Croak.
Problems within Google’s AI research teams first surfaced in early December 2020, when prominent female AI ethics researcher, Timnit Gebru, alleged that Google had ‘fired’ her over an email she sent to colleagues.
Google disputes this and insisted she didn’t follow procedure.
In the aftermath of Gebru’s departure, staff on Google’s ethical AI research team demanded the firm sideline vice president Megan Kacholia, as well as commit to greater academic freedom.
That call came amid an outpouring of support forGebru, after an open letter demanded transparency was signed by more than 4,500 people, including DeepMind researchers and UK academics, as well as staff from Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Netflix.
And to make matters worse, members of Dr Gebru’s own team at Google also published a second open letter challenging the company’s account of her dismissal.
The furore even saw Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai telling Google staff in December that the circumstances surrounding Gebru’s departure would be examined.
In February two staff resigned from Google, citing Gebru’s dismissal as the reason for leaving.
Google then appointed one of its few black executives (Marian Croak) to oversee research on responsible artificial intelligence (AI).
But almost immediately after her appointment, Google fired researcher Margaret Mitchell, following an investigation into misuse of corporate email.
In January, Google had revoked Mitchell’s corporate email access for reportedly using automated scripts to find examples of mistreatment of Gebru.
The company said its review found that Mitchell had violated its code of conduct and security policies, including moving electronic files outside the company.