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Google CEO says company will review events leading up to Dr. Timnit Gebru’s departure

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SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 07: Google AI Research Scientist Timnit Gebru speaks onstage during Day 3 of TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018 at Moscone Center on September 7, 2018 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Kimberly White/Getty Images for TechCrunch)
Image Credits: Photo by Kimberly White/Getty Images for TechCrunch / Getty Images

In light of artificial intelligence researcher Dr. Timnit Gebru’s exit from Google last week, Google CEO Sundar Pichai sent a memo to staffers, obtained by Axios, saying the company would investigate “the circumstances that led up to Dr. Gebru’s departure, examining where we could have improved and led a more respectful process.”

Last week, Gebru said she was fired from the company after sending an email to her direct reports discussing how she was disappointed in her organization’s approach to DEI as well as the approval process around her research paper. Gebru sent that email after Google did not grant her permission to attach her and her colleagues names to an AI ethics paper about language models. Gebru had previously sent her superiors an email, detailing that if they would not meet her specific conditions she would prepare to leave. Google proceeded to tell her it accepted her resignation and cut off her access to her work email.

In Pichai’s memo, he said the company needs to “accept responsibility for the fact that a prominent Black, female leader with immense talent left Google unhappily.” He also noted how it’s had a “ripple effect” through underrepresented communities at Google.

Google’s co-lead of Ethical AI team says she was fired for sending an email

Google declined to comment but confirmed the memo is authentic. You can read the full memo over on Axios.

Pichai’s memo comes a couple of days after more than 2,000 Googlers and thousands of other supporters signed a letter standing with Gebru.

“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,” they wrote. “In an email to Dr. Gebru’s team on the evening of December 2, 2020, Google executives claimed that she had chosen to resign. This is false. In their direct correspondence with Dr. Gebru, these executives informed her that her termination was immediate, and pointed to an email she sent to a Google Brain diversity and inclusion mailing list as pretext.”

They went on to demand those who were involved in deciding how to treat Dr. Gebru’s paper meet with the Ethical AI team to explain what happened. They also demanded greater transparency around the decision-making, as well as a commitment from Google Research to research integrity and academic freedom.

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