Google faces rebellion from employees over sacking of AI researcher Timnit Gebru

A solidarity campaign is being run by a large number of Google employees in support of Timnit Gebru, technical co-lead of Google’s Artificial Intelligence Team. Timnit Gebru was fired after she sent an email to an internal company group about conflict over a research paper she was working on.

The email details her anguish over how the company functions and the need to create an Inclusive space. Gebru is a co-founder of Black in AI, an organization that works towards increasing the number of Black researchers in artificial intelligence.

This has now raised a huge backlash with many questioning Google’s commitment to diversity in inclusivity.

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A campaign #ISupportTimnit was posted on Medium by Google workers who accuse the company of firing Gebru “following unprecedented research censorship”.

More than 1,500 employees have signed a petition protesting the dismissal. “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 petition says. 

According to MIT Technology Review, the paper she was working on raised issues about big AI models as well as environmental costs associated with them. As per MIT Review, she had written a paper earlier that “showed facial recognition to be less accurate at identifying women and people of colour, which means its use can end up discriminating against them”.

Google’s Head of Artificial Intelligence, Jeff Deam said the paper did not “meet the bar for publication” and that Gebru had resigned. However, Gebru cleared the air through her tweets and said that she hadn’t resigned.

Here’s the full text of the email Gebru wrote, for which she was sacked by Google:

Hi friends,

I had stopped writing here as you may know, after all the micro and macro aggressions and harassments I received after posting my stories here (and then of course it started being moderated).

Recently however, I was contributing to a document that Katherine and Daphne were writing where they were dismayed by the fact that after all this talk, this org seems to have hired 14% or so women this year. Samy has hired 39% from what I understand but he has zero incentive to do this.

What I want to say is stop writing your documents because it doesn’t make a difference. The DEI OKRs that we don’t know where they come from (and are never met anyways), the random discussions, the “we need more mentorship” rather than “we need to stop the toxic environments that hinder us from progressing” the constant fighting and education at your cost, they don’t matter. Because there is zero accountability. There is no incentive to hire 39% women: your life gets worse when you start advocating for underrepresented people, you start making the other leaders upset when they don’t want to give you good ratings during calibration. There is no way more documents or more conversations will achieve anything. We just had a Black research all hands with such an emotional show of exasperation. Do you know what happened since? Silencing in the most fundamental way possible”.

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