Google to centralise AI ethics team amid anger over researcher’s exit
San Francisco/Seattle — Google will restructure its responsible artificial intelligence (AI) efforts to centralise teams under a single executive, according to people familiar with the situation, as the internet giant tries to stabilise groups working on ethics research and products after months of chaos.
The Alphabet unit is expected to announce the changes as soon as Thursday, according to the people, who asked not to be identified discussing the private information. Google has sought to diffuse employee rancour stemming from the acrimonious departure of a prominent black researcher, Timnit Gebru. The responsible AI teams will report to Marian Croak, a black Google executive who currently serves as a vice-president of engineering focused on site-reliability matters. Croak will report to Jeff Dean, the senior vice-president of Google AI.
Croak will oversee the Ethical AI team that’s become the focus of intense scrutiny as well as employees on other fairness teams. These include people working on machine learning, computer-vision systems, natural language processing and those who engineer fairness products, one of the people said. Megan Kacholia, who attracted employee criticism after dismissing Gebru, will no longer oversee these researchers, the person said.
Google representatives didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment outside regular business hours.
The crisis began in early December when Gebru, who is best known for showing how facial recognition algorithms are better at identifying white people than black people, said she was fired by e-mail. Google claimed it accepted her resignation after a conflict over an AI research paper critical of its technology that Google executives demanded Gebru retract or remove Google authors from. Her dismissal upset the Ethical AI research team she co-led, with members of her group taking to Twitter to publicly support her and criticise Google.
Two weeks later, a group of Google AI researchers sent a sweeping list of demands to management calling for new policies and leadership changes. Five weeks ago, Google also sidelined the other leader of its AI ethics research team, Margaret Mitchell, locking her out of its corporate network.
This isn’t the first time Google has turned to Croak to handle the issue. A few days after Gebru’s dismissal, Croak moderated a meeting of Dean and Kacholia on one side, and researchers and the Black Googlers Network on the other.
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