Black Researcher Says Google Fired Her For Writing Paper Outlining Bias

“Your life starts getting worse when you start advocating for underrepresented people. You start making the other leaders upset,” Dr. Timnit Gebru, a respected researcher at Google wrote in an email to a group that included company employees. 

Gebru was expressing disappointment in the tech giant’s approach to ensuring a diverse staff and addressing the bias built into artificial intelligence systems, as reported by the New York Times

“There is no way more documents or more conversations will achieve anything,” she continued in the email sent Tuesday (December 1). 

On Wednesday, Gebru tweeted that she had been fired by Google, attributing the termination to the email she’d sent the day before.

Dr. Gebru co-led the company’s Ethical A.I. Team which sought to address ethics in the development of artificial intelligence technologies, including racial bias. She wrote a paper with six others about the flaws of a new language technology and submitted it to an academic conference. 

A Google manager demanded the paper to be taken out of the conference which frustrated Gebru and prompted the email she sent, according to an interview with the Times

Gebru stated in her email that she would resign if the company could not answer her questions about why they wanted the paper removed from the conference.

Google responded to the email, saying it could not meet the demands outlined in the email, and said her resignation would be immediately accepted. 

The leader of Google’s artificial intelligence work Jeff Dean called Gebru’s termination, “a difficult moment, especially given the important research topics she was involved in, and how deeply we care about responsible A.I. research as an org and as a company.” 

As a Black woman in tech, her departure may be sending a message to other academics wanting to join tech companies. 

“Her firing only indicates that scientists, activists, and scholars who want to work in this field –- and are Black women –– are not welcome in Silicon Valley. It’s very disappointing,” Mutale Nkonde told the Times. Nkonde is a fellow with the Stanford Digital Civil Society Lab.  

Even with promises to hire a more diverse workforce, companies like Google are not fulfilling them. “They are not only failing to prioritize hiring more people from minority communities, they are quashing their voices,” Gebru said.  

Having marginalized groups working in tech spaces is necessary to ensure innovation does not lack representation and perpetuate injustice to particular groups. 

Photo: Getty Images

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