Google is at it again, firing another top AI researcher for writing a paper that disagreed with the company’s position.
According to The New York Times, Dr. Satrajit Chatterjee was leading a team of scientists that were rebutting a research paper Google had published in Nature. The paper asserted that computers could design some chip elements better than human engineers, a claim which Chatterjee’s team refuted. Google, apparently unhappy with the outcome, refused to publish the new paper and fired Dr. Chatterjee.
The Times sources say Chatterjee and some of his fellow researchers had reservations about the initial paper that was submitted to Nature. Two of those researchers’ names were later removed from the paper’s list of authors when a revision was submitted. Despite giving Chatterjee and his team the go-ahead to write a paper refuting the original one, once the rebuttal was complete, Google refused to publish it. When the researchers said they wanted to take the issue to CEO Sundar Pichai, and accused the company of not upholding its own principles for AI research, Chatterjee was fired.
The incident is reminiscent of Dr. Timnit Gebru’s firing. Gebru co-led the AI ethics team, and helped author a paper highlighting some of the pitfalls of large-scale AI language models, including those used by Google. Google refused to publish that paper and fired Gebru in short order. Months later, the company fired Gebru’s co-lead, Margaret Mitchell, for her avocal support of Gebru.
The reaction to Gebru’s firing was swift and severe, with some of the company’s engineers resigning, researchers shunning the company’s funding, and a prominent AI ethics conference suspending Google’s sponsorship. The company’s remaining AI researchers even wrote a letter stating their demands, not the least of which was for the company’s leadership to respect academic integrity.
“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 read.
One of the major complaints in how this latest incident was handled is that it appears to fly in the face of guidelines that were established in the wake of Gebru’s firing, guidelines designed to prevent such a fiasco from happening again.
As the saying goes: “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Google seems determined not to learn from its history of bad decisions, and has now stumbled into an all-new debacle of its own creation.