Google fires Margaret Mitchell, founder and co-head of the AI ethics team

Google has fired the founder and co-head of its artificial intelligence ethics unit. Google claims that she had violated the company’s code of conduct. In a statement, Google said an investigation found Margaret Mitchell had moved files outside the company. The ethics unit has been under scrutiny since December, following the departure of another senior figure, Timnit Gebru. Both women had campaigned for more diversity at Google, with both raising concerns about censorship within the company.

Margaret Mitchell, a staff research scientist and Google employee since 2016 had been under an internal investigation by Google for five weeks. In an email sent to Google shortly before Margaret Mitchell was placed under investigation, Margaret Mitchell called Google firing Timnit Gebru

“forever after a really, really, really terrible decision.”

A statement from a Google spokesperson about Margaret Mitchell reads:

“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.”

Margaret Mitchell was a member of the recently formed Alphabet Workers Union. Timnit Gebru has previously suggested that union protection could be a way for AI researchers to shield themselves from retaliation like the kind she encountered when a research paper she co-wrote was reviewed last year.

Google VP Marian Croak

On Friday Google announced additional changes to its diversity policy, including tying DEI goals to performance evaluations for employees at the VP level and above. Googles AI Chief, Jeff Dean also apologized to Black and female employees who were hurt by the firing of Timnit Gebru.

On Thursday, unbeknownst to multiple members of the Ethical AI team, Google restructured its AI ethics efforts that bring 10 teams within Google Research, including the Ethical AI team, under Google VP Marian Croak. Croak will report directly to Dean.

A Google blog post also highlighted that Croak had spent decades working on groundbreaking technology, with over 200 patents in areas such as Voice over IP, which laid the foundation for the calls we all use to get things done and stay in touch during the pandemic.

“We have to make sure we have the frameworks and the software and the best practices designed by the researchers and the applied engineers, so we can proudly say that our systems are behaving in responsible ways,”

said Marian Croak.

Timnit Gebru said about the decision took by Google on Thursday.

“Marian is a highly accomplished trailblazing scientist that I had admired and even confided in. It’s incredibly hurtful to see her legitimizing what Jeff Dean and his subordinates have done to me and my team,”

Margaret Mitchell and Timnit Gebru’s co-leadership

Margaret Mitchell and Timnit Gebru came together to co-lead the Ethical AI team in 2018, eventually creating what’s believed to be one of the most diverse divisions within Google Research. The Ethical AI team has published research on model “cards to bring transparency to AI” and “how to perform internal algorithm audits”. Last year, the Ethical AI team hired its first sociologists and began to consider how to address algorithmic fairness with critical race theory.

The way Timnit Gebru was fired led to allegations of gaslighting, racism, and retaliation, as well as questions from thousands of Google employees and members of Congress with records of authoring legislation to regulate algorithms. Members of the Ethical AI team requested Google leadership take a series of steps to restore trust.


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