A group of Google artificial intelligence researchers sent a sweeping list of demands to management calling for new policies and leadership changes, escalating a conflict at one of the company’s prized units.
The note centers on the departure of Google AI ethics researcher Timnit Gebru, which set off protests inside the company. Citing that situation, the employees called for a company vice president, Megan Kacholia, to no longer be part of their reporting chain. “We have lost trust in her as a leader,” the researchers wrote, according to a copy of the later obtained by Bloomberg.
Gebru has said she was fired after the company rejected a research paper she co-authored that questioned an AI technology at the heart of Google’s search engine. The company has said she resigned and Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai told staff he is investigating the incident.
“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 reads.
It was sent Wednesday to officials including Pichai by employee Alex Hanna, who worked with Gebru, on behalf of Google’s Ethical AI team.
“This research must be able to contest the company’s short-term interests and immediate revenue agendas, as well as to investigate AI that is deployed by Google’s competitors with similar ethical motives,” the researchers added.
The letter urges Google to offer Gebru the chance to return to the company “at a higher level” than the one she had before. The researchers also asked that Kacholia and Jeff Dean, the AI division chief, apologize to Gebru for their treatment of her. It also calls for the company to issue a public commitment to academic integrity and to establish racial literacy training for management.
Full stop— We can’t prevent algorithmic bias in innovative tech if POC don’t have a seat at the table.@RonWyden and I urged @Google CEO @sundarpichai to reaffirm his commitment to D&I and academic freedom. Now more than ever, @timnitGebru’s departure makes this work essential. pic.twitter.com/RYwPB4bche
— Yvette D. Clarke (@RepYvetteClarke) December 16, 2020
The is the latest worker uprising at Google. In 2018, thousands of employees walked out and some of them sent the company a list of reform demands, including placing an employee representative on the board. While the company made some changes, such as no longer forcing employees to arbitrate workplace claims, the bulk of those demands remain unmet.