Google AI Chief Jeff Dean ignited a firestorm of comments on Twitter by inviting “marginalized groups” to work with Google researchers.
Jeff Dean was at the center of the controversial firing of Dr. Timnit Gebru, a world-renowned AI ethics researcher in late 2020. At the time, Google tried to pass the situation off as Gebru resigning, but she and her team made it clear she had been fired, over an issue of academic integrity. Gebru had co-authorized a paper highlighting the dangers of certain times of AI, including the type Google regularly uses. Gebru’s co-lead, Margaret Mitchell, was fired some time later, after her outspoken support for her colleague.
Google has already faced severe backlash for its actions. Multiple researchers and engineers have quit, independent researchers have started turning down the company’s funding, the company was removed as a sponsor for a high-profile AI conference and its remaining researchers have petitioned the company to respect academic integrity, one of the pivotal points of contention leading to Gebru’s exit.
With such a background, it’s hard to fathom what Dean was thinking with his recent tweet, in which he said:
I encourage students from historically marginalized groups who are interested in learning to conduct research in AI/ML, CS or related areas to consider applying for our CSRMP mentorship program! We have 100s of researchers @GoogleAI who are excited to work with you.
Needless to say, the reaction was swift and severe, with many Twitter users asking how he could possibly expect marginalized groups to trust Google after its actions. The criticism is especially notable since the company is accused of marginalizing a Black woman, and never taking responsibility, let alone attempting to fix it.
The backlash appears to have been swift enough to cause Dean to remove his tweet, as it is no longer available at time of writing.
Google’s mishandling of this situation continues to be an astounding case study of what not to do.