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Google fires Margaret Mitchell, co-lead of the ethics AI team

Google fires Margaret Mitchell, co-lead of the ethics AI team
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Google fires Margaret Mitchell, co-lead of the ethics AI team  

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Margaret Mitchell and Timnit Gebru, co-leads of the ethics AI team, have now both been terminated by Google.

Google fired Margaret Mitchell, co-lead of the Ethics AI team after Axios reported the news that she used an automated script to check her emails for evidence of discrimination against her co-worker Timnit Gebru.

Mitchell's firing comes a day after Google announced its Artificial Intelligence teams reorganisation working on ethics and fairness. Marian Croak, vice president of the engineering organization, now runs "a new centre of expertise on responsible AI within Google Research," as per the blog post.

In 2016, Mitchell joined Google as a senior scientific researcher, as per her LinkedIn profile. After two years, she helped start the ethics AI team alongside Gebru, a renowned researcher well known for her work on bias in facial recognition technology.

Mitchell and Gebru were working on a paper in December 2020 about the dangers of large language processing models when Megan Kacholia, vice president of Google Brain, asked that the article be retracted. Gebru pushed back, saying the company needed to be more open about why the research wasn't acceptable. Soon afterwards, she was fired, though Google characterized her departure as a resignation.

In December 2020, Mitchell and Gebru were working on an article on the dangers of large language processing models when Megan Kacholia, vice president of Google Brain, requested that the article be retracted. Gebru objected, saying the company needed to be more open about why the investigation was not acceptable. Shortly thereafter, she was fired from her, although Google characterized her departure as a resignation.

After Gebru's termination, Mitchell got openly critical of Google executives, including Google AI division head Jeff Dean and Google CEO Sundar Pichai. In January, she lost her corporate email access after Google began investigating her activity.

"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," Google said to Axios about Mitchell's firing.

On Friday, Google announced it was making changes to its research and diversity policies after investigating Gebru's termination. In an internal email, Jeff Dean apologized to staff on how Gebru's departure was handled. "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," he said.

The ethics AI team has been in crisis since Gebru's firing in December. After the reorganization announcement yesterday, senior researcher Alex Hanna shared that the team was not aware of Croak's appointment until the news broke Wednesday night publicly. "We were told to trust the process, trust in decision-makers like Marian Croak to look out for our best interests," she said on Twitter. "But these decisions were made behind our backs."

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