Google Fires Second AI Ethics Lead

Google has fired Margaret Mitchell, just a couple of months after its controversial firing of Dr. Timnit Gebru.

Margaret Mitchell is a leading AI ethics researcher and co-led Google’s team for responsible AI development, along with Gebru. When Gebru was fired, something Google tried to pass off as a resignation, Mitchell was among the most vocal in her condemnation of the company’s actions.

Mitchell was locked out of her company access in January, but not before she sent an email to Google condemning Gebru’s treatment.

The firing of Dr. Timnit Gebru is not okay, and the way it was done is not okay. It appears to stem from the same lack of foresight that is at the core of modern technology, and so itself serves as an example of the problem. The firing seems to have been fueled by the same underpinnings of racism and sexism that our AI systems, when in the wrong hands, tend to soak up.

Mitchell confirmed in a tweet Friday that she too has been fired.

Google has blamed Mitchell for her firing in a statement sent to various outlets: “After conducting a review of this manager’s conduct, we confirmed that there were multiple violations of our code of conduct, as well as of our security policies, which included the exfiltration of confidential business-sensitive documents and private data of other employees.”

The violations in question reportedly had to do with Mitchell using automated scripts to find examples of Gebru’s mistreatment.

Interestingly, around the same time as Mitchell’s firing, Google’s AI head, Jeff Dean, issued an apology to Google staff upset by Gebru’s firing. Axios obtained a copy of the memo:

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.

Many, including Dr. Gebru and other Googlers are not buying the apology, calling it a non-apology, and calling out the timing as an intentional effort to divert attention away from Mitchell’s firing.

Similarly, Google appointed Dr. Marian Croak to lead the company’s responsible AI development efforts Thursday, just one day before Mitchell’s firing. Critics viewed Croak’s appointment as another thinly veiled attempt to draw attention away from accusations of racism and misogyny.

Given Google’s decisions — or more accurately, their inability to make a good one in this situation — many find it more than a little concerning that one of the biggest AI developers seems to have utterly lost its way in the ethics department.

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