Head Of Google Ethical AI Team Fired Three Months After Co-Leader’s Controversial Exit


Google has fired the leader of its ethical artificial intelligence team, Margaret Mitchell, a move that comes after the acrimonious exit of researcher Timnit Gebru unleashed a firestorm of criticism on the company over the last few months.

In a statement, Google confirmed Friday that Mitchell was terminated after an investigation found she extracted “confidential business-sensitive documents and private data of other employees.”

According to the Verge, Mitchell used a script to automatically crawl through her email to find evidence of discrimination against Gebru.

Gebru departed in December after she wrote an email to her co-workers criticizing Google’s inclusion efforts and the company’s plan to retract a paper she co-authored, which found that AI language systems, including one from Google, can be biased against women and ethnic minorities.

The firing of Mitchell, who founded the ethical AI unit, has upset some other members of the team, with two researchers publicly tweeting that Mitchell’s manager was never informed of her firing.

Gebru tweeted that she “can’t figure out the words. But the only thing I’ll say is thank god I’m out of that horrid place.” Meanwhile, other AI researchers slammed the decision. Meredith Whittaker, a research scientist at New York University, called on AI conferences to drop Google as a sponsor and for other researchers to refuse to work for the company.

Gebru’s firing highlighted for many how little progress Google and the technology industry have made when it comes to diversity and inclusion. Indeed, Google announced Thursday that it would start tying pay tie at the vice president level and above to reaching diversity and inclusion goals, according to Axios, while Google’s AI head Jeffery Dean admitted he “should have handled this situation with more sensitivity,” referring to Gebru’s ouster.

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