Google Fires AI Researcher Amidst Diversity Row


Google fires ethical AI researcher Margaret Mitchell following probe into corporate email misuse following dispute over December exit of Timnit Gebru

Google researcher Margaret Mitchell has been fired by the company, both disclosed, following an investigation into misuse of corporate email.

The company said its review found that Mitchell had violated its code of conduct and security policies, including moving electronic files outside the company.

The move comes amidst an ongoing battle around research freedom and diversity at Google.

Mitchell, who co-led Google’s ethics in artificial intelligence team for about two years with scientist Timnit Gebru, announced her firing on Twitter.

timnit gebru, google
AI researcher Timnit Gebru

Diversity protest

Gebru’s dismissal from the unit in December spurred widespread protests at Google.

Both Gebru, who is Black, and Mitchell, who is white, had called for greater diversity in the company’s research staff and expressed concern that Google was censoring research critical of its own products.

Gebru said Google fired her after she questioned an order not to publish a paper claiming AI that mimics human language could harm marginalised populations.

Google has maintained that Gebru resigned.

In January, Google revoked Mitchell’s corporate email access for reportedly using automated scripts to find examples of mistreatment of Gebru.

Earlier in February, Mitchell published a letter she said she sent to Google’s press team after her corporate email was cut off, in which she said Gebru’s firing appeared to be fuelled by “underpinnings of racism and sexism” that could also potentially influence the construction of AI systems.

‘Multiple violations’

“After conducting a review of this manager’s conduct, we confirmed that there were multiple violations of our code of conduct, as well as of our security policies, which included the exfiltration of confidential business-sensitive documents and private data of other employees,” Google said in a statement.

The company recently announced the appointment of Marian Croak to lead its responsible artificial intelligence division.

Google and Mitchell announced her departure on Friday, the same day that Google reportedly announced internally that it had concluded its investigation into Gebru’s exit.

The company didn’t disclose the results of that investigation, but said it would institute policy changes to improve diversity, including tying executive pay companywide to inclusion efforts, Axios reported.

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