January 22, 2021

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Google AI Researchers Lay Out Demands, Escalating Internal Fight

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A group of Google artificial intelligence researchers sent a sweeping list of demands to management calling for new policies and leadership changes, escalating a conflict at one of the company’s prized units.

The note centres on the departure of Google AI ethics researcher Timnit Gebru, which set off protests inside the company. Citing that situation, the employees called for a company vice president, Megan Kacholia, to no longer be part of their reporting chain. “We have lost trust in her as a leader,” the researchers wrote, according to a copy of the later obtained by Bloomberg.

Gebru has said she was fired after the company rejected a research paper she co-authored that questioned an AI technology at the heart of Google’s search engine. The company has said she resigned and Google’s Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai told staff he is investigating the incident.

“Google’s short-sighted decision to fire and retaliate against a core member of the Ethical AI team makes it clear that we need swift and structural changes if this work is to continue, and if the legitimacy of the field as a whole is to persevere,” the letter reads.

It was sent Wednesday to officials including Pichai by employee Alex Hanna, who worked with Gebru, on behalf of Google’s Ethical AI team.

“This research must be able to contest the company’s short-term interests and immediate revenue agendas, as well as to investigate AI that is deployed by Google’s competitors with similar ethical motives,” the researchers added.

The letter urges Google to offer Gebru the chance to return to the company “at a higher level” than the one she had before. The researchers also asked that Kacholia and Jeff Dean, the AI division chief, apologise to Gebru for their treatment of her. It also calls for the company to issue a public commitment to academic integrity and to establish racial literacy training for management.

This is the latest worker uprising at Google. In 2018, thousands of employees walked out and some of them sent the company a list of reform demands, including placing an employee representative on the board. While the company made some changes, such as no longer forcing employees to arbitrate workplace claims, the bulk of those demands remain unmet.

© 2020 Bloomberg LP


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