Google fired the co-lead of its ethical AI team for using an automated script to look through her emails in an attempt to find evidence of discrimination against a coworker.
Google announced a reorganization to its AI teams working on ethics and fairness a day before firing the co-lead, and selected Marian Croak, a vice president in the engineering organization, as the team lead.
Former co-lead of the team, Margaret Mitchell, joined Google in 2016 as a senior research scientist. Two years after that, she, along with a renowned researcher named Timnit Gebru, helped initiate Google’s ethical AI team.
Gebru was fired after vice president of Google Brain, Megan Kacholia insisted that an article, that Mitchell and Gebru were working on, be retracted. Gebru resisted and argued that the company needed to give reasons why the research wasn’t acceptable.
After Gerbru’s departure from Google, Mitchell became openly critical of Google executives, including Google AI division head Jeff Dean and Google CEO Sundar Pichai. In January, Google investigated Mitchell’s activity and found multiple violations of code of conduct and security policies, including the exfiltration of confidential business-sensitive documents and private data of other Google employees. This resulted in Mitchell losing her corporate email access.
After making changes to its research and diversity policies, Google investigated Gebru’s termination. Jeff Dean gave a statement regarding the former employee’s departure, saying “I heard and acknowledge what Dr. Gebru’s exit signified to female technologists, to those in the Black community and other underrepresented groups who are pursuing careers in tech, and to many who care deeply about Google’s responsible use of AI. It led some to question their place here, which I regret.”